At the risk of sounding ungrateful, something is better than nothing.
Monday’s announcement that the province is going to throw $27.1 million, or half of the total cost, toward the twinning of Ray Gibbon Drive is indeed welcome news. With more than 20,000 vehicles crowding the current two-lane road, it’s high time the province recognized the status quo is just not feasible.
The announcement, foreshadowed by Minister of Economic Development Deron Bilous at a chamber event two weeks ago, was hardly a surprise. With a looming provincial election and an NDP government languishing in the polls, anything that can be pulled out of the proverbial political hat to protect two St. Albert seats will be deployed.
Back in December, St. Albert city council committed to front-end a $54.2-million plan to twin the road, now to be an arterial road, similar to Boudreau Road, instead of the originally intended provincial-grade highway. If we go back nearly 20 years, to 2001, the newly minted council of the day was elected mostly on the issue of the need for a provincial corridor road that would allow free-flow access to the north. The plan was that the road would be an extension of Highway 2 replacing the congested St. Albert Trail and falling under provincial responsibility with full funding included.
What will be the consequences of not having a provincial highway that feeds off the Anthony Henday north? The road has been the subject of intense lobbying for years by our provincial representatives, our city representatives and the St. Albert & District Chamber of Commerce. All recognize the incredible opportunities a six-lane provincial highway would bring in terms of commerce. The Lakeview Business District, the some 620-acre piece of land that lies on St. Albert’s northwest end, west of Ray Gibbon, is land intended for light industrial/commercial development. Jobs, and an increased contribution of business taxes to the city’s coffers, would go a long way to diversifying St. Albert’s traditional reliance on the residential tax base.
It’s not, however, just about St. Albert proper. The road has long been viewed as an economic driver for the region including Sturgeon County, Morinville, and Villeneuve Airport. All would receive benefit from the easy flow of goods, services and people from Edmonton north, and vice versa.
The road will take 10 years to complete, and city councillors still need to pass a borrowing bylaw to fund the city’s portion of the total expense, but that is likely a fait accompli.
A four-lane arterial road will certainly alleviate local commuter traffic, but it’s difficult to envision how such a road will serve us in the future. Think of the Yellowhead Trail and imagine a plethora of heavy tractor trailers travelling up and down an arterial-quality road like Boudreau Road every day. A $1-billion fix is underway for that now. Now think of Highway 2 free-flowing through Red Deer. What would you prefer?