Friday, 19 May 2017 08:00

Highway 3 twinning study shows economic benefits

Written by  Southern Alberta Newspapers
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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.

On May 5 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 through Medicine Hat to the Saskatchewan border.
While much of Highway 3 is already twinned, there is still about 220 kilometres of highway that remains single-lane.
Crowsnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter said for the Crowsnest Pass area, safety is the biggest issue, and the economics of the highway secondary.
He said it was “unfortunate” to have to shift the conversation away from safety and into economics, but 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 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 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 completed 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.”
According to the report t winning the remaining portions of Highway 3 would cost about $6 million per kilometre. The new $6-million-per-kilometre figure comprises land assembly, road base, paving and other infrastructure and signs, for least complicated construction areas, the report states.
That $6-million-per-kilometres cost estimates for the easiest construction areas. Stretches closer to the Rockies — west of Fort Macleod — could be three times as expensive.
The near 100-kilometre stretch from Medicine Hat to Taber would cost a daunting $600 million to complete.
For perspective, the 2017-18 provincial budget outlines $753 million for twinning and expansion for the entire province over the next four years.
That is on top of $60 million over two years to twin portions of Highway 63, which is a main and high-priority route to Fort McMurray.
The report however, states work on Highway 63 is scheduled to take place over 10 years.
Tackling Highway 3 in a similar fashion could see it finished in 2028, and paying dividends to local economies before then.
“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.”

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