Just down the road going west on Highway 3, Lethbridge was given the good news of a major bridge replacement announcement at city hall last week, with Minister of Transportation Brian Mason in tow, along with $100 million dollars in funding.
Transportation infrastructure maintenance is crucial in helping a province run in both urban and rural areas, and Lethbridge should not be ignored in that endeavour, as the difficult task of looking after a whole province is no easy feat. Yet, it seems the rural areas are always the ones that are at the back of the line for the most part in getting the slice of bridge/transportation funding in adequate time frames. The $100 million dollar announcement to replace the existing bridge across Highway 3 by 2022, comes on the heels of the same bridge already having millions of dollars thrown (wasted) at it to widen it last year.
Hopes of getting re-elected can be made easier with ring-road announcements in say the Calgary and Edmonton areas where there is a high concentration of votes, featuring just over half the province’s overall population being found in two cities according to a 2016 census. Even in southern Alberta, urban areas Lethbridge and Medicine Hat make up over 60 per cent of the region’s overall population when it comes to re-election time where funding should be dispersed in priority.
There are 170 local bridges located in the M.D. of Taber which were valued at a replacement cost in excess of $100 million back in 2017. At the time, it was estimated the M.D. of Taber had road bridge projects valued at $15 million to conduct in the next decade, a lofty amount considering the M.D. of Taber’s entire annual budget hovered around $15 million in 2016, if there is no provincial funding to be had.
Bridge funding has traditionally been 90 per cent provincial and 10 per cent by the municipality in question. Derrick Krizsan, CAO for the M.D. of Taber noted at the 2016 AGM that the M.D. will have an infrastructure deficit for just its bridges of $25 million over the next 15 years. Recent estimates of the value of the local road bridges within rural municipal districts and counties in Alberta exceeds $1 billion dollars. The M.D. of Taber has the second highest number of bridges in the province of Alberta among individual municipal districts and counties.
Recently, the BRID and M.D. of Taber finally got some good news on a drop structure and bridge south of Enchant which upgrades are near completion thanks to Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Funding which is aiding the $2.5 million project. But, it was noted as a point of aging infrastructure concern since 2009 of the structures that were built back in the early 1950s. Had disaster struck in that area prior to the long overdue upgrade, over 130,000 acres of high-value crops would have been affected, with over half the district affected with no water.
Thirty per cent of all sugar beets and 22 per cent of all potatoes and dry beans production in the entirety of the province would have been brought to a standstill in an area of bridge maintenance. That is hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural production, both in helping feed the province and keeping its underlying employment opportunities that could have been adversely affected.
The food production for the whole province is highly centralized in rural southern Alberta, and while building bridges and ring roads is nice for the highly-populized urban driver or those on holidays to get to your destination faster, the importance of the transportation of sustenance needed to live cannot be understated.
While voters may be small in number in rural areas, their contributions are huge when it comes to the well being of the province, both among country folk and city slickers alike when they pull themselves up to the dinner table. The Alberta Irrigation Projects Association commissioned a report which concluded irrigation in Alberta contributed $3.6 billion annually to the Alberta GDP, on an average irrigated area of 1,485,000 acres.
Certainly in getting elected for the sake of democracy, one vote should carry just as much weight as the next, but when it comes to running a province effectively, sometimes the smaller piece in the engine needs just as much, if not more attention to make a vehicle run smoothly on the road to prosperity.