Red Deer city council will hold a public hearing on Oct. 28 about whether to take the future expansion of Molly Banister Drive off the table. (Photo by MAMTA LULLA/Advocate staff).

Opinion: Molly Banister extension isn’t as important as quality of life

Citizen opposition to the Molly Banister Drive extension has grown since the late winter of 1993.

The Red Deer River Naturalists, Sunnybrook, Horizon Village, Bower residents and other concerned citizens saw no need for a four-lane arterial road despoiling this beautiful, quiet, south section of Waskasoo Park. This wave of opposition culminated in the council chambers on May 17, 1993. Council asked administration to come back with some creative alternatives to the extension.

While IMC consultants worked on a new transportation plan in 1996, the late Roy Porka placed a petition in the Red Deer Advocate that readers could cut out and send to city council opposing the road extension: 532 did so.

At the Red Deer Farmers Market, the Friends of Waskasoo Park gathered another 323 signatures opposing the road.

In addition, there were letters to council and in the Red Deer Advocate — which had written an editorial supporting opponents of the road extension that June.

On Jan. 27, 1997, council, in an 8-1 decision, voted to remove the protection of the extension. It was done – or it should have been.

Six years later, engineers and planners reintroduced the extension’s “dotted” line during the 2003-04 transportation update.

This absolutely gobsmacked Bower and Horizon Village residents and other supporters of Waskasoo Park who believed the issue had been decided.

At a presentation to the public at Bower Community Hall in the fall of 2003, 57 people opposed the road; only four were in favour.

At the final workshop on May 4, 2004, consultant Dean Cooper explained that the road extension would have a minimal effect on reducing 32nd Street traffic.

Unfortunately, Stantec left the protection of the extension as an option in their report to council at its June 14, 2004, meeting.

Final hearings were inconveniently scheduled in the chambers on Monday, June 28, 2004 — as teachers, students and families were wrapping up the school year or leaving on vacation.

Council voted to remove the option of widening 32nd Street to six lanes, but left open the option of protecting the Molly Banister Drive extension. There were more hearings in 2007. On and on.

Recently, the Bower sisters offered to donate the Bower Woods Natural Area to the city provided the extension would never be built. Incredibly, the previous city administration turned down this generous offer.

Consequently, the sisters sold their 155-acre farm to Melcor last summer. Melcor wants protection for the road extension removed.

When that happens, they will add 40 acres to Waskasoo Park. Ten acres will be municipal reserve and they will then develop 105 acres as mixed residential.

This is what they promised the Bower sisters and explained to the Bower community last January.

It should be noted that while developers pay for collector roads, taxpayers pay for arterial roads — plus operational costs. If the road extension is eliminated, the city will not only be spared the cost of building this expensive road, it will also receive increased property tax revenue into the future because of the type of residential development that will be possible.

It was the vision of the Lougheed government through the Heritage Trust Fund that gifted us this glorious city asset — Waskasoo Park.

In a very thorough report, city administration has recommended removing protection of the Molly Banister Drive extension.

Council now needs to choose between protecting and expanding our extraordinary park system, or building a needless road, that while it may offer a small reduction in future vehicular commute times, will defile a quiet, peaceful park area.

Choose the environment and all the people who use it, while they improve their mental and physical health by walking, jogging, inline skating, cycling, enjoying birds and wildlife and otherwise moving through it using their own physical effort.

This is the moment. Choose quality of life for our city’s future. Eliminate the Molly Banister Drive extension for good.

Rod Trentham is a Red Deer resident.