A long-term plan to turn Hwy 11 between Red Deer and Sylvan Lake into a freeway is raising some initial concerns among farmers.
Dan and Melodie Belich farm on both sides of Hwy 11 between Cygnet and Cameo Lakes. And they wonder how many kilometers out of their way they would have to take farming equipment if all level crossings are closed and only a few interchanges are made available to get across that stretch of Hwy 11.
The three proposed new interchanges would be at Hwy 11 and Hwy 20, Hwy 11 and a new Range Road called 281.5 (which would sit between RR 281 and RR 282), as well as the intersection of Hwy 11 and a new ring road that will at some point be built around Red Deer (which consultants guesstimated might cross around where RR 282 or RR 283 are currently located).
There are also long-term plans to further improve the existing interchange at Hwy 11 and Hwy 2 to eliminate traffic lights and create more free-flowing traffic patterns and easier merges.
The proposed new interchange system “would mess up a lot of businesses” — not only farms but industries in the Belich and Burnt Lake industrial parks, predicted Melodie, who noted many people would have to travel out well out of their way.
But Dan said concerns will depend on how soon all the proposed changes will happen.
“If it happens tomorrow, it will be absurd,” he said. But if the changes transpire decades down the road, when a lot of the area farms are turned into other industrial or residential developments, “it will be a moot point.”
While it was hard to pin down a time-line for the highway changes proposed by McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd., a rough range might be 10 to 40 years, said Henry Davos, regional manager of transportation planning for Morrison Hershfield, a firm sub-contracted by McElhanney.
The changes will depend on many factors, including how quickly traffic grows and government priorities.
While some proposals, including turning the four-lane Hwy 11 into a six-lane freeway, will probably be decades in the future, Davos said the study isn’t premature. It will enable Red Deer County, the City of Red Deer, and the Town of Sylvan Lake to more effectively plan for future growth.
Davos anticipates that the first change will be closing the Hwy 11, Burnt Lake Trail crossing, which is much too close to the Hwy 2 interchange. A new access would be created further west, and it might stay a level crossing for a while before becoming an interchange.
Red Deer resident Ron Lynch will be glad to see more improvements at Hwy 11 and Hwy 2, saying it’s now hard to merge into fast-moving southbound traffic from Hwy 11.
He also likes the proposed realignment of Hwy 20 to connect with Hwy 781 south of Sylvan Lake, saying a lot of town residents like to take Hwy 781 to Innisfail when travelling to Calgary.