August 6, 2012
Highway 63 twinning fast track is accelerating
The Government of Alberta is moving forward with a new plan to accelerate the twinning of Highway 63 using a traditional procurement method, as tenders go out ahead of schedule to prepare for future road construction.
“Our government promised quick action on Highway 63 and we’re delivering on this promise,” said Ric McIver, Minister of Transportation.
“These new projects demonstrate our commitment to safe highways and will increase passing lane opportunities on Highway 63.”
Alberta Transportation recently decided to fast-track three projects on Highway 63, which connects the oilsands region near Fort McMurray to Edmonton.
The decision comes less than a month after the special advisor on Highway 63, Mike Allen, produced a report entitled Toward a Safer 63 for Premier Alison Redford.
The public has been demanding improvements to the highway 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.
The projects were already on the books, but the combination of online petitions, written public letters to the premier, planned protests and Allen’s report helped push the work ahead by a year.
The first project involves two new passing/climbing lanes and extensions to six existing lanes that will be added between House River and the junction with Highway 881.
The new or extended lanes provide more passing opportunities and will reduce incidents of risky passing and the potential for head-on collisions.
Work is scheduled to start this summer and is expected to be completed by summer 2013.
The next project will start grading for the next section of twinning that will take place from north of Wandering River to south of Wandering River.
This work includes 27 kilometres of grading for a twinned highway, as well as site preparation and earthworks at the three Wandering River crossings.
The decision to start construction this summer will allow the related future bridge work to be tendered ahead of schedule.
The project has a scheduled completion date of fall 2013.
The third project involves 55 kilometres of tree clearing from south of House River to north of Mariana Lake.
The early start of this project allows future grading and paving contracts to be tendered ahead of schedule.
The tree clearing will be completed by the spring.
Allen, who is the MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, presented a 22-point plan on June 29, which aims to make the highway safer.
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, a number of potential investment methods were considered.
“A number of delivery methods for construction projects were brought forward to me during consultations and they were analyzed with the benefits and risks weighed against each approach,” said Allen in the report.
“When the timeframe and industry capacity were considered, it became apparent that a traditional design/bid/build approach was best suited for the Highway 63 project. The traditional design/bid/build model is 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 (P3) 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.
“By applying this lesson, twinning Highway 63 would significantly reduce collisions, including fatal head-on collisions,” he said.
“Other factors that may influence the collision rate include driver frustration with attempting to pass commercial and industry vehicles, driver fatigue and boredom leading to unsafe driving behaviours and higher traffic volumes during shift change days.
For this reason, Allen recommends that more passing lanes and pull outs need to be built to alleviate driver frustration and facilitate safe driving.
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