Red Deer city council passes on spending $230,000 for new Molly Banister Drive extension studies

Existing data will be updated instead

Red Deer Coun. Dianne Wyntjes successfully argued that no new spending is needed for more traffic and environmental studies about whether to allow for the future expansion of Molly Bannister Drive. (Contributed photo).

Red Deerians are torn over whether Molly Banister Drive should be extended over a creek to someday connect with 40th Avenue — and so is city council.

A recent city survey on the Molly Banister Drive question showed 57.6 per cent of respondents want to keep the alignment for a future road extension in city plans, while 40.8 per cent want to remove the proposed traffic corridor from city plans and keep the wildlife corridor intact. The remainder were uncertain.

The public input was collected from about 1,796 responses to an online city survey, as well as more than 195 mailed-back questionnaries from landowners. These results are not scientific, as they could have been submitted more than once by the same person, city council was told.

Council received this information on Monday, while debating whether $230,000 should be spent on two new 12-month-long studies of traffic patterns in south Red Deer and environmental impacts of the road extension project.

Although only $80,000 of the money would have come directly from taxpayers, and the rest would have been reallocated from other pre-approved traffic reports, the majority of councillors felt further studies wouldn’t contribute much to a 25-year-long community debate.

“It does not make financial sense,” said Coun. Dianne Wyntjes to restudy both sides of the issue when the city can consult an in-depth study done a decade ago that forecast future traffic patterns and growth.

The 2009 study anticipated a Molly Banister road extension would be needed when the city hit 115,000 people by 2030, based on a three per cent annual population increase.

Municipal growth has since dropped to half that amount, or about 1.6 per cent a year, meaning the road extension might not be needed for another 20 to 25 years.

Although traffic in the city and county has grown over the past decade, Wyntjes felt the 2009 report could be updated with new population projections and current traffic data.

What’s a new flora and fauna count along the creek going to add, she questioned.

“It’s a key wildlife corridor. We already know that (the road expansion) would amount to a loss of habitat … do we need a (new) study to tell us that? I don’t think so.”

Wyntjes, along with councillors Michael Dawe, Ken Johnston, Vesna Higham and Buck Buchanan, voted against a recommendation from administration to move ahead with the new studies. Instead, they opted to rely on the previous report, with updates.

Mayor Tara Veer, as well as councillors Lawrence Lee, Tanya Handley and Frank Wong, had argued it isn’t fair to ask city administrators to rely on older data to make a recommendation about whether to preserve or strike the future road alignment.

Debate over the Molly Banister Drive extension goes back more than a quarter century — and the decision will impact the city for decades to come, said the mayor.

”This is a generational decision,” added Veer, so a new study is worth spending money on, even in this fiscally difficult time.

Red Deerians “deserve better” than decade-old data — especially given how much local interest there is in the matter, said Lee.

In the end, council directed administration to use existing studies to make a decision on the future of the roadway. A report will come back to council in 12 weeks.

Last fall, housing developer Melcor requested the Molly Banister Drive protected roadway be removed from future plans for the area, so designs for a new subdivision, south of Springbrook, could begin.

Melcor envisions the 600-housing units being built beside a park and creek, instead of an arterial roadway.

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