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Inflation a key challenge in provincial transportation portfolio

Highway 11 twinning and Red Deer airport upgrades remain government priorities
Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo) Transportation and Economic Corridors Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)

Inflation and workforce shortages are expected to be among the key challenges for Transportation and Economic Corridors Minister Devin Dreeshen.

Dreeshen was named to the new post by newly elected premier Danielle Smith on Oct. 24.

The Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA said Smith has asked him to take a hard look at the province’s transportation infrastructure, including those projects yet to be built.

“We want to look at the new projects through an economic corridor lens,” said Dreeshen.

That means looking at the type of traffic using a route and not just traffic counts when establishing priorities.

The twinning of Highway 11 from Sylvan Lake to Rocky Mountain House, which is already underway, fits into that strategy and the government remains committed to the project.

Inflation, which has significantly boosted construction costs everywhere, is expected to be a challenge.

However, Dreeshen does not expect rising costs will slow the $120 million project announced in July 2020. A roundabout near Sylvan Lake have been built on time and on budget.

Asphalt has not seen the same spike as steel prices. “It is my hope that by working with the department we can try to minimize those costs so Albertans aren’t stuck with a higher bill at the end of it.”

“When we look at our economic corridors, we don’t just see road and rail. We also see our airports as being a big part of that economic growth story.”

A tight labour market because of a surging economy is also expected to have an impact, although it is a familiar challenge in this province.

“That’s usually a snag for Alberta construction is you get that boom-bust cycle. That’s another hurdle we may have to get over.”

Ensuring tendering remains competitive is among the ways the government hopes to get the best value for its money.

Smith’s mandate letter to Dreeshen calls on his department to work with aviation partners to establish regularly scheduled service to Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat to Calgary and Edmonton.

While those were singled out because of their distance from the province’s major airports, the development of Red Deer Regional Airport remains a priority, he said, pointing out the province’s $7.5 million investment announced in February as part of an $18-million airport upgrade project.

Dreeshen said he has met with the airport authority and told them the development of the airport remains part of the province’s strategy to bring in more trade and attract more businesses.

“They are a big part of us trying to grow the economy and attracting investment and creating more jobs and at the end of the day having stronger communities.”

Before the latest post, Dreeshen had previously served as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry under Jason Kenney.

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