Crowsnest Pass municipal council wants to address residents’ concerns about twinning Highway 3 when councillors meet with Transportation Ministry officials at March’s Rural Municipalities of Alberta convention in Edmonton.
Mayor Blair Painter, who sits on the non-profit Highway 3 Twinning Development Association (H3TDA), added the issue to council’s Feb. 14 agenda, prompting a frank discussion about the project’s economic and traffic safety benefits for the municipality.
“I’ve heard a lot of comments from people wanting to talk about Highway 3, which leads me to the point where I believe that our community wants to have this come back to Alberta Transportation for further discussion,” Painter told council.
H3TDA has advocated for the project for more than 20 years, according to a December 2022 Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) report commissioned by the association.
Former premier Jason Kenney committed in 2020 to twinning the highway between Taber and Burdett at an estimated cost of $150 million, telling Albertans that shovels would go in the ground in the spring of 2021.
Construction on that span of the highway is now slated to begin this spring, while the province announced last November that it plans to twin the rest of the highway within 10 years.
Painter has long supported the project, and Crowsnest Pass’s 2020 municipal development plan states that “Ultimately, the improved corridor will facilitate positive economic growth in the community and increase safety and mobility for the public.”
The MDP further states that “The [province’s] recent confirmation of the highway expansion and realignment project equips decision-makers with the certainty needed to make land-use decisions moving forward.”
With the reality settling in, residents are starting to worry that the project might bypass the municipality altogether, Painter told Shootin’ the Breeze.
The PwC study says the project would yield around $1.5 billion in provincewide spending on one-off construction costs, plus around $400,000 in annual maintenance costs between the Fort Macleod bypass and Sentinel. Regional highway maintenance would create an estimated three full-time jobs between Pincher Creek and Sentinel, while hugely benefiting southwestern Alberta’s agricultural, tourism, mining and renewable energy sectors.
The study also found that twinning the highway would significantly cut down on head-on collisions by allowing motorists to safely pass slow-moving vehicles.
A December 2019 planning study by the engineering firm ISL says the twinned highway would function as “a four-lane freeway” linked to Pass communities through interchanges at Allison Creek Road, Blairmore, Frank, and Bellevue-Hillcrest. The study further recommends another local access point through an underpass at Passburg.
“In the ultimate freeway condition, no other direct highway access will be available for any use, including residential access, business access or field access. All existing highway access, including community access, will need to be directed to the local road network to the ultimate interchange locations,” the study notes.
ISL’s study acknowledges that “previous highway  realignments have bypassed” Blairmore, Bellevue and Hillcrest.
Painter said Coleman was also bypassed in the 1980s.
Speaking at chambers on Feb. 14, Painter reminded councillors that “We’ve all lived here long enough to remember what happened to our commercial areas.”
Speaking to the Breeze 10 days later, Painter noted that local traffic is already much safer thanks to four traffic lights that went up along municipal stretches of Highway 3 roughly a year and a half ago. (The PwC study notes that highway collisions were 1.5 times higher on untwinned highway sections between 2014 and 2018, based on period data from the Government of Alberta).
The lights also make it easier for tourists and residents to directly access Crowsnest Pass’s communities, Painter added.
The mayor said up to 25 properties and businesses might have to be expropriated to accommodate highway expansion through parts of Frank.
The ISL study was less specific, noting, “The community of Frank is anticipated to be a challenging area for land acquisition given the residential properties and active businesses impacted by the recommended plan.”
The mayor also told the Breeze that the project risks disturbing the west side of the historic Frank Slide, which is considered a graveyard.
Bill Chapman, president of H3TDA, says the association hears Painter’s concerns “loud and clear.”
H3TDA strongly supported Painter’s initiative to install Crowsnest Pass’s highway traffic lights, and remains committed to “achieving a balance” that supports rich economic growth for the province and the Pass, Chapman continued.
The province may decide to expropriate some properties in Frank, but Chapman noted that ISL “very clearly” stressed the need to protect the graveyard section of the slide.
H3TDA and the province have hosted local stakeholders at multiple public forums, with Alberta Transportation officials meeting with councils from Crowsnest Pass, the Municipal District of Pincher Creek and the Village of Cowley four times between June 2017 and November 2018, according to the ISL study.
Mayor Painter said he’s looking forward to confirming a meeting with Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen at next month’s RMA convention.