(Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)

Former Red Deer city manager warns killing the Molly Banister Drive extension is ‘a terrible mistake’

Craig Curtis will argue for keeping the road alignment at next week’s public hearing

Red Deer’s former city manager “strongly” urges preserving the future Molly Banister Drive extension, saying it’s the most important planning decision city council can make for growth and development.

“Every transportation study has supported it, and over 10 city councils have endorsed the need for the road,” says Craig Curtis, who started as an urban planner for the City of Red Deer and worked for the municipality for nearly three decades.

The Molly Banister Drive extension was first put into the city’s plans in the 1970s. Without the road someday crossing Piper Creek to join up with 40th Avenue and 22nd Street, the city will face massive traffic congestion by the time the local population hits 188,000, says Curtis.

“It would be a terrible mistake” to reject the alignment, he adds — as the only future solution would be constructing “huge” interchanges at 19th and 32nd streets, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

“I am very, very supportive of parks and open spaces,” maintains the former city manager, who assisted in the development of the Waskasoo Park system. He named this his most fulfilling accomplishment in an interview before his 2019 retirement.

“But you always have to make certain compromises…”

Curtis recalls many citizens in the early 1990s had clamoured for a linear park to be developed along a former rail line, “but where would we be without Taylor Drive?”

And how would Red Deer function without the 67th Street bridge — which took out part of the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary when it was built?

The fate of the Molly Banister Drive extension could finally be settled next week, after four decades of controversy. A special city council public hearing is being held at 1 p.m. on Tuesday at the Harvest Centre at Westerner Park.

Two microphones will be set up in adjoining rooms so that Red Deerians can speak either for or against a proposal to remove the right-of-way for a future extension of Molly Banister Drive.

The presentations will be viewed remotely by city councillors via live video feed from City Hall.

Most recently, city administrators recommended the road alignment be removed from plans, citing environmental concerns about that wildlife corridor and the fact 19th Street will have to be expanded someday, in any case.

Curtis believes this decision was only reached because city council had nixed doing a new traffic study.

Without a road over the creek, Melcor Developments could build more houses in the undeveloped area south of Sunnybrook. The city would benefit from 105-acres of taxable new residential development.

Red Deerians would also get 40 acres added to Waskasoo Park — as promised by Melcor — as well as 10 acres of municipal reserve, noted local environmentalist Rod Trentham, who has argued for parks over roads as a quality-of-life issue.

While the future road extension “may offer a small reduction in vehicular commute times, (it) will defile a quiet peaceful park area,” Trentham wrote in a letter to the Advocate.

But Curtis feels this sacrifice of some wooded area would be “minor.” He noted a new bridge spanning the creek would be more environmentally friendly than the culvert that Piper Creek currently flows through under 19th Street.

Curtis plans to attend Tuesday’s public hearing to talk about two future subdivisions planned for east of 20th Avenue. Their only access would be 19th Street, or the already congested 32nd Street, if the extension is not allowed.

Although population growth has slowed to a crawl during a recessed economy that’s left both the province and the municipality without deep pockets for road building, Curtis believes “it’s time to consider the big picture… I think Alberta is innovative, can embrace change and begin to grow again.”

Whether the vehicles of tomorrow are powered by fossil fuels or electricity, roads will be needed, he noted. “We can’t be mired in defeatism.”

Nearly 60 per cent of citizens in a recent informal city survey supported keeping the road allowance. Curtis hopes enough people without a personal stake in the matter will show up at the hearing to voice their opinions.

Attendees will be required to wear masks and physical distance.

Members of the public can also dial into the hearing by phone by calling 1-833-714-0895 and entering 7198953.

Presentations will be limited to 10 minutes.

Cityof Red Deer

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Craig Curtis, Red Deer's former city manager. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)

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