BANFF, Alta. – Alberta’s minister of transportation and infrastructure, Brian Mason, and assistant deputy minister of transportation, Shaun Hammond, addressed and answered questions during the Alberta Motor Truck Association’s (AMTA) Leadership Conference April 29, saying the NDP government has invested $9.3 billion into its Transportation Capital Plan over the next five years.
Mason said there would be over $7 billion going toward expanding and maintaining the province’s highway network, pointing to such large-scale projects as the Edmonton ring road and Highway 63 twinning as nearing completion.
“We know that these are critical roadways to help your industry better move goods across communities and sometimes across the country.”
Other projects Mason said his government would soon tackle included improvements to Highway 28 near Redwater, Highway 12 near Bentley, Highway 88 near Slave Lake and bridge maintenance on Highway 24 near Carseland, as well as a new truck staging area north of Fort McMurray.
“Ensuring our province’s highways and roads continue to move people and goods safely and affectively across our province is a key priority to this government,” Mason said.
Mason admitted that the drop in oil prices has brought a lot of pain to Alberta, and that it does have an impact on the current budget. He also said that Alberta Transportation has always had a close working relationship with the AMTA, and that was something he wanted to continue.
“Those of you right here in this room play a key role of getting Alberta’s goods to market in the province, across Canada or from onward to the world,” he said.
Mason said his department was also looking at other concerns of the trucking industry, such as emissions testing and the permitted use of wide-based tires.
Hammond said with 31,000 kilometres of highway in Alberta, the government needed to determine how to best spend the money they had for road maintenance, as 80% of traffic utilizes about 50% of the highway system.
Garnering revenue for road infrastructure is always a hot topic, but Hammond said the notion of employing toll roads in Alberta ‘has been taken off the agenda’ in favour of alternative ideas, such as user-pay models, which is the possibility of higher registration fees for those who use the roadways more often.
Hammond said his government was working with the western provinces to identify corridor requirement and find solutions to bottlenecks.
“What should the network in Alberta look like 10, 20 and 30 years down the road?” Hammond asked, saying the NDP was eyeing the future with its road infrastructure decision-making.
Hammond pointed to the need for another 24-hour border crossing from Alberta to the US, an upgraded east and west corridor and linking road, rail and air between primary hubs like Calgary and Edmonton, as well as feeder hubs, like Medicine Hat, in the future.
“We’re trying to project forward to see what we need to do today to form the basis for Alberta’s economic growth,” Hammond said.
Hammond said though the maintenance portion has been cut in the current provincial budget, they had capital funds to do rebuilds and rehab on roads, which would give them an extra 20 years on their lifespan. He added that many bridges in Alberta need fixing, as they are nearing the end of their lives, being 50 to 60 years old, and his biggest fear would be to have to close a highway because a bridge was found to be unsafe.
Answering a question on the omission of rest stops in the budget, Hammond said the government is looking at areas rest stops could be built where communities can provide the necessary services to maintain them.
Hammond also said he may have found a new home for the Partners in Compliance (PIC) program, which lost its grant funding from his department in the budget.
“This was a tough decision because when they came to us with our budget requirements there wasn’t a lot of room,” he said.
Hammond said PIC’s ability to curb fuel use, and in turn greenhouse gas emissions, was something the environment department looked favourable upon, and that he was trying to align the two parties together and possibly bring funding back to PIC.
“You’ve lost it from us,” Hammond said of PIC funding, “but I may have found it somewhere else.”
Hammond also believed that testing of super-single (wide-based) tires would happen soon, something many in the audience were happy to hear.
Identifying vehicles servicing trucks on the side of the highway as ‘emergency vehicles’ was another concern Hammond said he would look deeper into.
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