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Central Alberta landowners support Highway 11 twinning

Residents want to see existing route twinned but recognize it mean big changes
Residents along Highway 11 between Rocky Mountain House who took part in public consultation supported a proposed twinning project and want to see the existing route used. (Contributed photo)

Central Alberta residents along Highway 11 west of Sylvan Lake agreed twinning is needed and a majority told consultants they wanted to see the existing traffic corridor used.

CIMA Canada Inc. consultants have been doing extensive consultation with those most affected by the twinning planned between Highway 22 at Rocky Mountain House and Township Road 390, which is just east of Benalto. The project would be completed in two phases: 10 km from Benalto to Leslieville (Highway 761) and 32 km from Leslieville turnoff to Rocky Mountain House.

Consultants had virtual interviews with dozens of residents along the 42-km stretch and there have been small group meetings and a pair of open houses each attended by 150 people.

“Most participants agreed that Highway 11 needed to be twinned and acknowledged they had witnessed several collisions and near-misses while travelling Highway 11,” said the consultants in an update on their findings presented to Lacombe County last week.

There was general agreement that the project will have its downsides. “Participants also recognized that twinning the highway would cause great upheaval for residents and landowners adjacent to the highway.”

Loss of farmland was a frequently voiced concern, as well as the impact on farmers along the route who need to move equipment from one side to the other of what would now be a much-wider highway.

“I have very serious concerns with crossing the highway with our farm machinery. Some of our equipment is very long and already straddles two lanes. How are we going to cross the twinned highway,” asked one farmer.

There was considerable anxiety over the uncertainty hanging over the project until it is known which twinning option route will be chosen and how it will affect landowners.

The $120-million project announced by then-premier Jason Kenney in July 2020 will twin 66 kms of the highway, officially called David Thompson Highway, between Sylvan Lake and Rocky Mountain House.

Twinning the existing highway — similar to what was done between Sylvan Lake and Red Deer — was the most favoured option.

A number of options were presented for the 32-km section, including increasing the number of passing lanes. While that would have the least amount of impact on farmsteads and acreages it would not significantly improve the highway and upgrades would still be required within 20 years.

Another option is to twin the highway using a “couplet” concept, which would see eastbound and westbound lanes separated by 800 metres with the westbound lanes part of a new stretch of highway. A fourth option — since rejected — would have created an entirely new highway, leaving existing Highway 11 as a local route.

A majority of residents opposed the couplet and new alternate highway options.

Passing lanes were also not generally supported.

One participant noted: “As a firefighter for 25 years: if you want less death/accidents DO NOT pick this, passing lanes = carnage and death.”

Consultants now plan to review their findings with municipalities. A preferred plan will be presented to the public for feedback early next year. It may be tweaked and then municipal support will be requested before a plan is recommended to Alberta Transportation later in 2023.

Currently, construction is well underway on twinning the section that stretches two kms west of Highway 781 and one km east of Highway 20. Work will also include two-lane roundabouts at the intersections of Highway 11 and Highway 781 (50th Street in Sylvan Lake) and at Highway 11 and Range Road 15 (60th Street).

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