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Lac La Biche Main Street design open house draws reactions

Streetscape plan comes back around for Lac La Biche

It was the second time around the block for a public open house to re-visit plans to re-design the downtown blocks of the Lac La Biche hamlet.

An open house hosted by designers and Lac La Biche County officials to highlight the ongoing efforts to transform the Lac La Biche downtown took over the Bold Center's Community Room last Wednesday night. The community viewing of concept artwork and the chance to ask questions to County officials and designers was similar to events that happened more than three years ago when the first planning stages of the proposed Streetscape were unveiled.

In recent months, those original plans were derailed by huge cost spikes for the project.

From 2019 to 2021, dozens of community consultations, surveys and open houses were held to detail the projected $16 million re-vamp of the community's downtown core. The Streetscape plan's primary goal was for the replacement of aging underground utility infrastructure. Other upgrades above ground included road surface repaving, new street-lighting, new sidewalks, street architecture including traffic control 'bulbouts', public seating areas, outdoor speakers, street art and a one-way traffic flow along 101 Street.  The project was divided into three phases, with phase one, the western entrance of the Lac La Biche hamlet, getting almost immediate approval.  That project, which started in early 2020, replaced old water and sewer pipes, curbs and gutters, and repaved a portion of Main Street from 105 Street to 103 Street, Phase one also saw upgrades to Main Street's  Sid Richard Devonian Park. Phase once was competed in 2021 at a cost of about $4 million. While the overall Streetscape project had some detractors, previous municipal councillors agreed to move ahead with the the next phases of the project, formally making go-ahead decision last December.  When construction price tenders were opened early in 2022, however, huge spikes in costs added more than $10 million to the budgeted $16 million price tag, and added more questions to the future of the project.

In June of this year after weeks of discussions, council voted to postpone the project until more information could be detailed.

While last week's open house is part of that new information gathering, of the concerns from residents attending the meeting weren't.

The bulb-outs that will restrict traffic movement and increase pedestrian areas at intersections along with the proposed one-way traffic flow in front of a downtown grocery store near the community Canada Post Office will only cause congestion, said several open house attendees. 

"It gets so busy already in front of the POST office. You know what's going to happen?  A cop will stop a guy in the middle of the street and we're going to have a traffic jam," said Eugene Lebas a long-time resident who now lives in a condominium along 101 Street. "It's a busy road now, lots of cars. Changing those lanes will just make it tougher."

The senior went on to say that many drivers already have difficulties driving in the congested area. Pedestrians will also have to be more careful if the changes are made. Although he likes the idea of making his community look better, he wasn't a big fan of the traffic changes the first time around. He hasn't changed that stance three years later.

"I didn't like it the first time they asked us to come and look," he said.

Those kinds of comments were part of a wide range of responses from residents, business owners and others who streamed into the Bold Center room during the three-hour session. The open houses give residents a chance to see and hear what could be happening around them. It also gives them a say in what will happen, says Lac La Biche County councillor Charlyn Moore.

"I am happy with the turnout and the questions asked," said Moore, who attended during part of the open house. 

Negative, positive, constructive and in-between, it's all input that the councillor says is vital to moving the community forward. 

"It's nice to see people coming out to these information sessions again," she said. "I am really excited to see projects like this improve our community."

Moore was one of the majority of elected council members who voted to move forward with the Streetscape project — but also joined all of the council members surprised at the increased costs. Though the above-ground features have faced some community concerns, she stands behind the need to spend money on the old utility infrastructure upgrades. She also believes that while the construction is taking place, it's a wise investment to look at some above-ground upgrades too.

"The aged infrastructure needs to go, and since it is the majority of the cost, why not put it back nicer than we found it," she said.

The recent upgrades to the Sid Richard Devonian Park, future additions in the McArthur Park Master Plan, the recent development of the Bold Center Sports Fields and additions at the Alexander Hamilton Community Park all create a more vibrant community, says the two-term councillor.

"Investment and promotion in ourselves has paid off. Investors invest in those who show investment in themselves," she said.

While the open house was a first step in the re-visit to the project, there has been no official word from County officials on the future of the Streetscape project or what events will follow the open house event. \

Lac La Biche County administrators have been contacted for their comments on the recent open house and a timeline of what is expected to happen next with the project. It is expected that a re-tendering process for the infrastructure upgrades will take place shortly, but updates will be made available when that information is received.

 



Rob McKinley

About the Author: Rob McKinley

Rob has been in the media, marketing and promotion business for 30 years, working in the public sector, as well as media outlets in major metropolitan markets, smaller rural communities and Indigenous-focused settings.
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