BONNYVILLE – It was welcome news – and long awaited – for the Northeast Mayors, Reeves and Indigenous Leaders Caucus who have been advocating for Highway 28 upgrades.
Alberta’s Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors, Devin Dreeshen, announced that the Government of Alberta is investing $5 million for engineering and design work to improve Highway 28 between Smoky Lake and Cold Lake. The announcement was made Monday afternoon from the foyer of Bonnyville’s town hall.
The planning and engineering stage for Highway 28 improvements is expected to take between one and two years to complete.
Areas of focus will include intersection upgrades, grade widening, curb reconstruction, passing lanes and safety rest areas. The engineering study will also look at highway twinning from Bonnyville to Cold Lake and the addition of passing lanes from Bonnyville to Smoky Lake.
“Highway 28 moves everything from oil and gas, agriculture and forestry. And it connects Edmonton to the north,” said Dreeshen, noting the project will help support jobs and economic growth in the region.
While those travelling on Highway 28 in the short term won’t see any changes, the minister said work will begin right away when it comes to planning upgrades. Once proposed designs for Highway 28 are complete, open houses will be held for the public to provide feedback before plans are finalized.
“My hope would be that once the design is laid out, that the construction dollars will follow very soon after so that engineering work is still useful,” added Dreeshen. This will require the project being included in the government's capital plan.
When asked why it took so long for the province to look at the improvements for Highway 28, the minister said he could not speak for previous governments, but he did reference old transportation policies that focused on traffic counts.
Dreeshen said that more consideration was given to the type of traffic Highway 28 sees, and the seasonality of traffic in the region.
“When we looked at Highway 28, this time around we saw that yes, the traffic counts are high. But also, it is the type of traffic that is in this region, and we ultimately want to make sure that we plan for safe travel from Bonnyville to Cold Lake for a lot of commuters,” said the minister.
“I know some in this room might say ‘It's about darn time, it should have been a long time ago,’ but all I can say is – It's happening now.”
A long time coming
For Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson, the disrepair of Highway 28 has been a sticking point since he was first elected in 2015.
“It's been a lot of work. But I constantly brag about this area and its contributions to the economy,” he said. “We really have only one corridor between here and Edmonton – and that is Highway 28.”
Referring to comments made by the minister, Hanson said “It's not just about traffic counts, it's about economic benefit... I've been pushing very hard for a change in that policy.”
“I look forward to the improvements on Highway 28,” said the outgoing MLA.
End of the road
Known as the mayor at the end of Highway 28, City of Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland shared his appreciation to Hanson for all the work he has done. “And now, it's our job to continue that momentum further and to try to get the capital money.”
Copeland thanked Minister Dreeshen, but also pointed to the combined efforts of the newly formed Northeast Mayors, Reeves and Indigenous Leaders Caucus, created to tackle common and wide-reaching issues.
“One of the things that was really unique about our group of mayors, reeves and Indigenous leaders in northeast, is we have everybody on board. There are some that have no real skin in the game for Highway 28, but everybody recognizes that Highway 28 feeds a whole bunch of other secondary highways,” said Copeland. “It is the transportation economic corridor for the northeast.”
The mayor also referenced a major expansion planned for 4 Wing’s F-35 program that is anticipated to bring more people and goods to the region via the highway.
“This project, with the rest of what's going on in the area, is going to be really important,” said Copeland.
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