By J.W. Schnarr
Southern Alberta Newspapers – Lethbridge
A new report on the economic benefit of twinning Highway 3 shows local economies would see economic returns of $3 for every $1 worth of construction costs.
Earlier this month at Lethbridge City Hall, Highway 3 Twinning Development Association president Bill Chapman announced the release of a cost-benefit analysis for the proposed twinning.
Municipalities along the Highway 3 corridor have been pushing for the highway to be twinned for decades.
According to the report, the net present value of the proposed twinning would exceed $2.3 billion over 20 years.
It also states more than a 90 per cent assurance that twinning the highway would generate more benefits to the public than costs.
Data was collected from Alberta Transportation, Alberta Culture and Tourism, AMA, Alberta Treasury Board and Finance (Southern Alberta) and Environics Research/Economic Development Lethbridge.
Chapman said the report was needed in order to move forward with convincing the province to look at twinning the highway.
“I think the government has shown a lot more keen interest in the economy of southern Alberta and some of the things that are occurring down here.”
Highway 3 runs through Crowsnest Pass and the B.C. border, through Lethbridge and to Medicine Hat.
While much of Highway 3 is already twinned, there is still about 220 kilometres of highway that remains two-lane.
Crowsnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter said for the Crowsnest Pass area, safety is the biggest issue, with the economics of the highway secondary.
He said it was “unfortunate” to have to shift the conversation away from safety and into economics, but that the study confirms twinning the highway would be a “great value” to local economies.
“There’s great value in the economics of it,” he said. “As well as the safety of the Crowsnest Pass.”
He said one difficulty in dealing with the issue is that there is no way to know just when any kind of action might take place.
“How do we plan for something if we don’t know if it’s going to happen in the next 10 years, 50 years, or 150 years?” he asked. “We’re hoping this government will commit dollars to this project and firm up a start date.”
In the M.D. of Taber, Highway 3 runs single-lane each way between Grassy Lake and Taber. M.D. of Taber Reeve Brian Brewin said during certain times of the year, the addition of heavy commercial traffic to regular traffic flows can be a significant issue.
“There’s certain times of the year where the traffic is immense,” he said. “But also the accidents. We’ve seen an increase in fatal accidents out there. Nobody ever wants to see that.”
Brewin said the report reinforces a previous report made back in 2002.
“It updates (that report), and confirms that this is a cost benefit to do this,” he said. “For the local communities (along the highway), it’s huge.”
Lethbridge West MLA Maria Fitzpatrick has been part of the association and said the twinning of Highway 3 has been discussed a number of times with Transportation Minister Brian Mason.
“I know the economic impact it would have right here in Lethbridge,” she said. “We have to get shovels in the ground, and we have to get money to do that.”
“I certainly see Highway 3, because of our proximity to the U.S., as being critical to our economy,” she said.
“The twinning of Highway 3 is really integral to tourism, recreation, and safety of the Highway 3 corridor,” Chapman told those in attendance. “It confirms that investment is really valuable and sustainable.”