David Marsden: Molly Banister extension must be kept

David Marsden: Molly Banister extension must be kept

‘It would be a mistake to take a sensible response to future residential development off the table’

The debate over whether to extend Molly Banister Drive is older than many Red Deerians themselves.

The discussion about pushing the road that runs alongside Bower Place mall across Piper Creek has been going on since the 1970s.

The city will be holding a public hearing on Oct. 26 on a request to remove the right-of-way that would allow construction of the road. It’s an application made by the developer that owns the adjoining lands, which will soon be the site of scores of homes.

A public hearing is a waste of money, especially when funds are tight. City council should have denied the application.

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The city’s planning department has recommended removing the right-of-way. It’s surprising that public workers paid to plan for the city’s growth would do the opposite: not plan for the responsible development of the region.

It was said in 2009 that the extension would be needed when the city’s population reaches 115,000 people, a benchmark that was expected to happen by 2030. Growth hasn’t met the three per cent annual increase that was forecasted, but it’s a certainty that Red Deer will surpass that mark at some point in the future.

An efficient transportation system is essential for a well-functioning community. Removing the extension is irresponsible, because it would permit the construction of homes without the proper planning of how those residents are going to get in and out of their driveways and to where they’re going.

It would also delay the arrival of emergency response vehicles, which are needed to save lives and property.

It’s odd that no one questions the loss of a farm pasture to housing, but the provision of proper transportation is seen as a wrongdoing. What is portrayed as an environmental concern is really just an interest in keeping neighbourhood traffic down to a minimum.

If the extension isn’t built, it will create unacceptable congestion along 32nd Street — already a clogged route at many times of the day — and 19th Street.

Why should the residents who live along these thoroughfares have to suck up extra fumes because of city hall’s fear of proper planning?

In fact, widening 19th Street would benefit the county as much as it would the city.

The road extension won’t happen tomorrow. It doesn’t have to happen at all. But it would be a mistake to take a sensible response to future residential development off the table.

Presumably, the developer is going to create a welcoming community on the verdant canvas it has been provided, with or without the road.

If the right-of-way prevents the creation of a desirable community, then the developer should have looked elsewhere to invest.

Transportation right-of-ways are hard fought for and should not be given up.

Calgary and Edmonton, and all Alberta taxpayers, have paid a steep price for a lack of planning in those cities. Ring roads have been constructed at great cost and disruption.

Right-of-ways can also be recreational and economic treasures.

On Vancouver Island, the abandoned E&N Railway, which ran from 1883 to 2006, is being reborn as a cherished connector where hikers and cyclists enjoy the quiet outdoors.

In the Okanagan, the former Kettle Valley Railway now invites thousands to savour adventures and enjoy the spectacular scenery that unfolds along the journey.

The future of the short jump over Piper Creek has yet to be written, of course, but let’s not sell it short. Even a less ambitious span, rather than a four-lane roadway, would serve the city well.

Today’s city council shouldn’t tie the hands of tomorrow’s.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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