The Alberta Government now has a timeline in place to accelerate the twinning of Highway 63, however the opening of a newly twinned section of road, north of Wandering River, has been delayed due to winter weather.
“In keeping with Premier Redford’s commitment to this region and safety on this highway, we worked hard to get this section of twinning completed ahead of schedule so all travellers could use it this winter,” said Transportation Minister Ric McIver.
“I am happy to say our crews have been out all summer working on the twinning as well as clearing, grading and preparing new passing lanes on other sections of the highway.”
McIver outlined his ministry’s plans and said that a 240 kilometre section of Highway 63 between Grassland and Fort McMurray will be twinned by fall 2016.
Highway 63 connects the oilsands region near Fort McMurray to Edmonton.
McIver made the commitment during a ceremony on Oct. 19 to mark the completion of a newly twinned 36-kilometre section of highway, which is strategically located at the half-way point between Edmonton and Fort McMurray.
Work crews planned to complete the section of highway last weekend, so the road could be opened to traffic on Oct. 22.
However, winter weather delayed the opening.
“The weather did not improve after our cold, damp announcement on Friday, in fact it got worse,” said Jeanna Friedley, spokesperson for Alberta Transportation.
“Our contractor is bringing in some special equipment, which heats and drys the pavement so the line painting can be completed. The paving work is complete and we are mainly waiting on line painting. The contractor will also be working to ensure signs, beacons, washrooms and lighting are all in place prior to the opening.”
Friedley said the delay is an illustration of how challenging road construction work can be and the special equipment is being brought in to get the highway open later this week.
The northbound lanes contain the new pavement with new right-hand shoulder lanes, which are built wider than standard.
This lane will accommodate oversize loads, while allowing other traffic to pass on the left.
Construction began in 2009 with tree clearing and grading. Paving was completed during the spring and summer.
This $84 million project, which was originally expected to have been completed in July 2013, is about nine months ahead of schedule.
All road construction work was scheduled around caribou calving seasons.
The completion of a section of Highway 63 near Wandering River and the commitment to divide another four-lane section by 2016, represents an investment of about $1.1 billion for the twinning over the next four years.
The twinning plan includes enhancements to Highway 881 over the next six years.
Alberta Transportation decided to fast-track several projects on Highway 63 in response to public pressure, after seven people were killed on April 27 in a head-on collision between two pickup trucks, about 50 km north of Wandering River.
It was the worst collision in the history of the highway.
Special Advisor on Highway 63, Mike Allen, produced a report on June 29 entitled Toward a Safer 63, which presented a 22-point plan.
According to the report, the necessary front end work for all the twinning, involving design studies, clearing, surveying and a majority of land purchases have been completed.
However, if the government continues with a cash-based allocation, at a rate of $50 million per year, full twinning of Highway 63 between Highway 55 and Fort McMurray would take 11 years.
To accelerate construction and this completion time, a number of potential investment methods were considered.
The traditional design/bid/build model was selected as the most expedient and cost effective method for completion of a twinned Highway 63 between Highway 55 and south of the Fort McMurray urban service area.
During this process, Allen also considered the public-private partnership and design build delivery models.
In the report, Allen cites a 2004 Transport Canada study, which shows that twinned, divided highways reduce vehicle collisions by up to 60 per cent.
For this reason, Allen recommends that more passing lanes and pull outs are needed to alleviate driver frustration and facilitate safe driving.
The Government of Canada is contributing up to $150 million through the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund toward the estimated 100-kilometre stretch of twinning from the junction of Highway 55 to south of House River. Alberta is providing $171 million.