Alberta communities along Highway 3 have been waiting for decades for twinning of the busy thoroughfare to make its way onto the provincial government’s priority list.
From time to time, encouraging words trickle out of Edmonton, but as the years go by, southern Albertans are still waiting.
There’s no doubt the cost of the project is a prohibitive obstacle, especially since hard times in the oilpatch have dented provincial coffers. But a new report suggests twinning Highway 3 will provide a boost to the Alberta economy that would exceed the project’s costs.
The cost-benefit analysis, presented recently at Lethbridge City Hall by Bill Chapman, president of the Highway 3 Twinning Development Association, shows local economies would see returns of $3 for every $1 in construction costs. Over 20 years, the net value of twinning the highway would top $2.3 billion, the report says. Furthermore, the report offers a 90 per cent assurance that Highway 3 twinning would generate more benefits than costs to taxpayers.
The report adds valuable hard economic data to the Highway 3 twinning argument that has primarily revolved around safety concerns. And the safety factor is certainly a major one. In December 2015, a fatal automobile collision on Highway 3 near Grassy Lake sparked renewed debate about the need to complete the twinning of the east-west thoroughfare.
In the wake of the crash, Medicine Hat Coun. Jim Turner, a representative on the Highway 3 Economic Development Association, told the Medicine Hat News that he used to drive the stretch of highway twice each week for business and added, “It’s a scary drive and I really didn’t care to do it.
“There are passing lanes but it should be divided. It’s a major road and it could be even more so if it was (twinned).”
According to a June 2004 report prepared for Alberta Transportation, “Highway 3 is the second busiest entry point into B.C., after Highway 1, carrying 25 per cent of the total traffic entering B.C. It is experiencing the second highest growth rate, after the North-South Trade Corridor (Highway 43), with traffic volumes increasing 27 per cent in the last 10 years.”
Thirteen years later, it’s unlikely traffic volume has decreased on Highway 3; it’s most likely much busier now.
It’s not that the provincial government doesn’t have money for highway projects. The Alberta Transportation website lists highway projects the government has on the go, including Highway 15 into Fort Saskatchewan.
The website states that “the Government of Alberta has identified the twinning of the Highway 15 bridge over the North Saskatchewan River and the completion of twinning on Highway 15 into Fort Saskatchewan as a major priority for the 2017 Capital Plan.”
The Alberta Transportation website also points out that a 240-kilometre twinning project on Highway 63 south from Fort McMurray has been completed.
“The $1.2-billion twinning project is part of the Government of Alberta’s commitment to improving safety, traffic flow and market access for Albertan families and communities.”
Southern Albertans would love to benefit from that government commitment, too, and twinning Highway 3 would be a way to provide it.
While portions of Highway 3 are twinned, there remains some 220 kilometres of the roadway that is still just two lanes. As those who drive the highway regularly are aware, it’s a busy road with a lot of commercial truck traffic. In winter, depending on the weather, it can be, as Jim Turner noted, “a scary drive.”
Between the safety concerns and the newly released economic information, there’s a strong argument that the twinning of Highway 3 should be moved up in the government’s priority list. Let’s hope government officials are listening.