Connecting Molly Banister Drive east across Piper Creek to 22nd Street is considered in a City of Red Deer area structure plan.
The East Hill Major Area Structure Plan (MASP) preserves a 43-metre-wide right of way for an arterial road through undeveloped land south of the Sunnybrook subdivision to Piper Creek.
“This does not necessarily imply that Molly Banister Drive will be extended across Piper Creek, and any such decision would require council approval,” states the plan. Past talk of extending the road from its end near Bower Place Shopping Centre’s northeast corner across Piper Creek has proven controversial.
A 2007 municipal election issue, council rejected it due to environmental and neighbourhood opposition.
On Thursday, former city councillor Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer called the extension “the most stupid thing to even think about.
“I think my first council meeting (in 1995) was about Molly Banister. I worked hard to get rid of it.”
Mayor Morris Flewwelling is “a little surprised it’s still on the map, but there isn’t a plan to build it right now.
“Rather than continuing to build wider, bigger and more multi-lane roads, the thinking is to provide good quality roads and alternatives,” he said, adding 19th and 32nd Streets can meet the city’s traffic needs.
City major projects planner Angus Schaffenburg said the June 2011 draft East Hill MASP contains right-of-way land to potentially connect Molly Banister Drive with 22nd Street.
“It’s in the current plan and continues in the proposed document.”
Area structure plans set long-term transportation and land-use strategies. The East Hill plan contains about 37 quarter sections — or 5,920 acres — with completed neighbourhoods totalling 17 quarters.
Frank Colosimo, the city’s Engineering Services Department manager, said on Friday whether Molly Banister Drive is ever extended, future development south of Sunnybrook needs a main connection to 40th Avenue. The protected right of way “is flexible enough that if it ever gets extended, you can do it.”
Environmentalist Dorothy Dickson said the extension should never be done because Piper Creek is the only wildlife corridor in and out of the city’s east side.
“It’s not just putting the bridge through and the traffic,” said the former Red Deer River Naturalists president. “Wildlife doesn’t like moving lights or noise or vibrations. It’s upsetting for them.”
A 2004 traffic study asked if, as the city hit a 115,000 population, “the delay experienced on 32nd Street is substantial enough to outweigh the environmental and social impacts of constructing the Molly Banister Drive creek crossing.”
It concluded that widening 32nd Street to six lanes between Spruce Drive and 40th Avenue as best for east-west traffic flow — and that’s not an option, said Flewwelling.
“The public consultations said no and council said no.”
Turning lane additions to 32nd Street this summer were made to help ease congestion and improve flow.
The same study pegged the cost of extending Molly Banister Drive at $37.5 million, $20 million less than making 19th Street six lanes because a flyover would be needed at Gaetz Avenue and 19th Street.
Councillor Cindy Jefferies said the distance between 19th and 32nd Streets isn’t that far.
“I hear the call from some to open (the extension), but I also hear that it would be a tragedy to lose more park space when we do have good access to 32nd and 19th Streets.”
Jefferies said extension discussion should wait until after the North Highway Connector Project turns Range Road 271 into two-lane 20th Avenue. The 19th to 32nd Streets section would be constructed in 2019 and the 32nd to 67th Streets section in 2022, with the roadway at six lanes when the city reaches 300,000 population.
Jefferies said city planners look long into the future and attitudes change over time — as do costs.
“Building 20th will come at the cost of other amenities. Is it crucial for us to build a six-lane expressway . . . given the size of our population and amount of money needed?”
The city’s Planning Department held an open house last week to show concepts for the East Hill Major Area Structure Plan. About 60 people attended with more providing comments online. Another open house will be scheduled after the responses are analyzed.
Comments on the East Hill plan can be made by contacting Angus Schaffenburg at 403-309-8545 or by email at email@example.com.