By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Rural municipalities in the region continue to respond to growth and development. In May, the Town of Coaldale passed the West Industrial Area Structure Plan to accommodate light industry and commercial developments. Lethbridge County has proposed a potential tax incentive bylaw to attract business owners to expand or develop in the County. With so much opportunity on the horizon to expand agriculture and agri-food production along Canada’s premier food corridor, adequate irrigation and transportation infrastructure remains a top priority to ensure our region can meet the growing global demand for food.
The Highway 3 Twinning Development Association (H3TDA) continues to organize and advocate for the complete twinning of Highway 3 across Alberta. Victoria Chester, director of Advancement for H3TDA, said although there may not appear to be a lot of movement on the project, big things have been happening behind the scenes in recent months.
In 2020, the province announced funding to twin the section of Highway 3 from Taber to Burdett
Following the request for interest, which Chester said will be closed in August, interested contractors will be provided with “all the data in order to create the request for proposal. Then from there, there’s time for them to put together their proposal and then the department reviews it.” She said this is anticipated to be completed by late fall. The timeline for breaking ground on this section of highway will depend on who the contract is awarded to. “If the proponent is selected, let’s say by mid-November, that proponent will have to decide whether or not they want to be digging in the winter,” and added factoring in things like scheduling and internal planning the project, “likely would not start until spring.”
“Optically, people do not know that things are going on in the background,” said Chester, setting the record straight that the Taber to Burdett section of the highway project has not been delayed or tabled. “They hear the (funding) announcement two years ago and they’re like, ‘nothing’s happening; everybody’s dragging their feet.’ It actually has been going very smoothly and the process has taken a lot of time to acquire all the land that was not owned.”
The H3TDA has been advocating for the twinning of Highway 3 for over 20 years. Chester explained there are many factors which could impact the timeline of the approved section from Taber to Burdett.
“We all know that we have an election (in spring 2023). We don’t know who will be in government and whether or not it will be important for them to see dirt moving and roads paved before the election, so that they can get that ‘hoorah’ that it’s happening.” Chester speculated, “there may be some pressure from the Department of Transportation to get it moving sooner rather than later,” but the specifics are not yet finalized.
Lethbridge County Reeve, Tory Campbell added, “County council advocates for Highway 3 twinning, when we are afforded audiences of elected officials, both provincially and federally. While we had hoped to meet face to face with federal ministers during the 2022 FCM Conference; this did not materialize. Our efforts have been more successful provincially, and we were able to advocate for the twinning of Highway 3 at the most recent RMA convention, held earlier this spring, during a meeting with then transportation minister, Rajan Sawhney.”
Chester said former Minister of Transportation Sawhney “absolutely got on target with this (issue).” Subsequently, Alberta’s Department of Transportation submitted a letter of interest to the National Trade Corridors Fund,” in April. The $4.6 billion funding pot helps fund infrastructure projects in Canada. Chester added the H3TDA provided the Department of Transportation with 25 letters of support from various stakeholders in southern Alberta, and additional comments of support from the official Twin3 petition at twin3.ca.
Chester said this submission, “went out the beginning of June,” adding that both Glen Motz and Rachel Thomas, “have both addressed the federal Minister of Transportation, (Omar Alghabra).
“Glen Motz is kind of like trying to touch base with (Alghabra) on a monthly basis.” She added, “The federal government has advised that in fall this year, we should know before Christmas whether or not any funds have been accepted as cost-share.”
Although it is too early to say whether this commitment will be fulfilled at the provincial level, “the last thing that Rajan Sawhney did before leaving her ministry, was to gain the support of the Alberta Treasury to cost-share the remaining 50 per cent, if the federal funds do come through.”
The difficult news is on June 10, the H3TDA was advised as to what the application actually was for the National Trade corridors funding. “It was different from what we had put as our priorities and we were confused as to why that happened. We had to go to (transportation) Minister Panda to follow up. At the time the article was written, Chester said more information on Panda’s response is to come following a meeting with H3TDA board members.”
“The priority for us and the government of Alberta is to see the whole section for Burdett all the way to Highway 1 and completed as a priority, because that’s the agriculture corridor.”
Chester said, “we are also in the process of doing an economic impact analysis to provide up-to-date data, as the current data set contains some stale data. Initially, the H3TDA was under the impression the study would be a collaboration with B.C. but the 2021 floods delayed B.C.’s involvement. Chester said, “we couldn’t wait for any further and we’ve got funding from a bunch of partners, (along the corridor).” This economic impact study began in June. Although it was not required by the Department of Transportation, Chester said, “they said it would be great to have another updated document and we felt that too,” adding the document will provide the most up-to-date information to the ministry as they lobby the Treasury, moving forward.
In addition to the safety concerns of the sections of highway which are still single-lane, municipalities and stakeholders in the region have a vested interest in getting the entire Highway 3 twinned as the region’s capacity for agriculture and agri-food production continues to grow.
Campbell added, “Lethbridge County is a longtime supporter of the efforts to complete the twinning of Highway 3 (…) As the critical link within Canada’s Premier Food Corridor (CPFC), Highway 3 plays a pivotal role in connecting our region to the world. The twinning of Highway 3 will mean enhanced safety, the potential for more jobs in our region, and increased economic prosperity.”
The City of Lethbridge recently approved membership of the H3DTA until 2026.
For more information about the H3TDA, or to become a member or sign the petition, visit twin3.ca.