By J.W. Schnarr
Southern Alberta Newspapers – Lethbridge
The increasing number of fatal collisions along untwinned portions of Highway 3 near Taber have renewed calls for the provincial government to move ahead with twinning projects.
Municipal District of Taber Reeve Brian Brewin said with work completed on Highway 63 in the north, it’s time to consider twinning Highway 3 to avoid further tragedy.
“We seem to have been put on the back burner over the years,” Brewin said. “There seemed to be a lot of money spent up north, and the twinning of Highway 63 – now that it’s done we’re hoping that some focus can come down south. Highway 3 is the only major east/west corridor that isn’t twinned now in Alberta.”
On Saturday morning, Chris Gerbrandt, an Alberta Sheriff, was killed along with a female driver of a 2005 Pontiac car travelling east that crossed the centre line and caused a head-on collision. Gerbrandt’s wife and son were taken to Calgary hospital with serious but non life-threatening injuries.
Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter said the highway represents an opportunity for the provincial government to move ahead with their infrastructure goals.
“Whenever there is a tragedy, it brings to light the need that we have the proper infrastructure in this area down here,” he said. “The government of the day has indicated that they are interested in developing more infrastructure, and I hope that they don’t forget about us here in the south.”
Aaron Manton, press secretary for Alberta Transportation, said while there are plans in place, a Highway 3 twinning project is not currently something the government is looking at. That could change, however.
“Twinning of Highway 3 is not currently part of Alberta Transportation’s construction plan,” Manton said. “However, as we move forward with our capital plan and set priorities for projects across the province, including highway improvement projects, we always remain open to hearing from law enforcement and municipal leaders about ways we can improve our roads and highways.”
Brewin said the mixed-use of large vehicles, wide-load hauls, farm equipment, and regular traffic can create a dangerous mix.
“We’re seeing a lot of larger trucks that are slower moving, we’re seeing a lot of farm equipment, (especially) during potato and sugar beet time,” he said. “These are vehicles that don’t travel the 110 or 120 that people want. So then you get a pileup behind them, and people start trying to pass at inopportune times.”
“It’s a combination of the big truck traffic along with the car traffic that seems to cause dangerous situations.”
Brewin said municipalities along Highway 3 involved with the push to see the highway twinned are frustrated by the lack of progress.
“It’s something we’ve been trying for 15 to 20 years to address, and to deaf ears,” he said.
The Highway 3 Economic Development Association has been focusing on the twinning of the highway for years with limited success. Serious safety issues have been identified for both pedestrian and vehicle traffic at a number of locations along the highway that could only be addressed through twinning. Twinning studies for the highway have been taking place since the 1970s.
The association has also identified that the lack of twinning has had an impact on growth in southern Alberta.
Hunter said as a major highway running across the province in the south, the highway plays a large part in economic development.
“We have a lot of commerce and a lot of ag products that move in this area,” he said. “To be able to have safe and proper transportation is very important. I think one of the biggest concerns we have is the safety of those goods and the other people who use that road.”
Hunter said he has spoken with Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Brian Mason about the issue.
“I told him we can have a lot of growth that can happen down in the southern area, as long as we have the proper infrastructure ” he said. “There is no commitment, obviously, but the dialogue has been started.”