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COLUMN: The sad saga of Ray Gibbon Drive

"If any criticism is warranted, it should be directed at the 1995-98 city council of which I was a member."
Allred Ken-P
Columnist Ken Allred

“Democracy takes time and costs money”
– Alderman Paul Chalifoux (1987)

A recent letter to the editor was somewhat critical of the current and previous city councils for delays in upgrading Ray Gibbon Drive. Personally, I would like to commend the current city council for the current widening to four lanes. If any criticism is warranted, it should be directed at the 1995-98 city council of which I was a member.

In April 1987, after considerable study, a proposal to construct a four- or six-lane freeway, then called the West Bypass and/or the West Boundary Road, was approved by city council in a 4-3 vote. Shortly thereafter, an 11,000-name petition was presented to council which exacerbated the controversy over construction of a roadway in the vicinity of Big Lake. Actually the petition organizers even claimed that the roadway was going across Big Lake, which together with their persistent nagging enlisted many of the signatures.

As a result of the petition, a motion came forward several months later to rescind the approval, with one alderman changing his position, resulting in a 4-3 vote in favour of rescinding.

I was probably the strongest voice for approving and fighting the motion to rescind as I had done extensive research into the history of the need to relieve the traffic congestion from St. Albert Trail, a debate that ensued off and on for over 20 years. During the 1985 election, I had door-knocked extensively in the NW quadrant and there was virtual unanimous support for a bypass along the west boundary of St. Albert to relieve the congestion commuters faced morning and afternoon on St. Albert Trail.

Later in the term, a further motion was passed referring the matter to a citizens' committee.

That was it for me, I had served for 15 years and anticipating that the delay was going to end up in a frustrating and lengthy process, I felt it was time for me to forgo the next election. That turned out to be a wise decision on my part, as the citizens' committee and ultimately council adopted an alignment along Riel Drive and then across the Sturgeon River and on to the north skirting the White Spruce forest. As predicted, the entire council was defeated in the 2001 election and the new council went back to square one and reconfirmed the original plan.

Unfortunately, in the interim, the environmental lobby created further turmoil reducing the proposal to two lanes. Fisheries and Oceans (federal) got involved over concern for “the effect the bridge would have on boat traffic on the Sturgeon River” of all things. A further concern over the spawning grounds for northern pike restricted construction to eight months of the year.

With Council approval in 2004, the road was named Ray Gibbon Drive and Phase 1 to McKenney was completed in 2007, and the extension to Giroux was underway. The total cost of the two lane roadway to Villeneuve was considerably in excess of original estimates.

As Alderman Chalifoux said: “Democracy takes time and costs money.”

Ken Allred is a former St. Albert alderman and MLA.