It’s taken a while, however the clearest signal yet has been made that a $1-billion overhaul of the Yellowhead Trail is ready to get going. The province is in, for $242 million on the project. Transportation minister Brian Mason wrote the city, confirming the provincial participation.
What tipped it in the city’s favour, after the provincial government did not put the Yellowhead on its priority list for this term, was lobbying by Edmonton to show the need. The province had thought the completion of the Anthony Henday ring road would be enough to handle additional traffic.
“That modelling said the Henday would give us 30 years worth of breathing room,” a jubilant Mayor Don Iveson told reporters. “Problem is we did 20 years worth of growth since when those models were approved because things were so busy for so many years here. Our breathing room is now down to ten years. That’s really how long it’ll take realistically to do a public works project as extensive as fixing the Yellowhead.”
The city also came up with a cash flow proposal that’s reminiscent of an old Brick commercial. Don’t pay a cent until 2023. “Some of the biggest costs of this project occur in the later years so we’ve tried to give the province some support by saying essentially they can chip in later, we’ll chip in sooner and the federal government will chip in along the way,” Iveson confirmed.
Money is needed elsewhere Mason told Global News. “We only have so much funding in a given year and there are heavy draws on our resources at the current time – Calgary’s cancer centre- we’re expecting there’s going to be further requests from both Edmonton and Calgary for LRT funding which is very expensive, there’s hospitals, there’s a number of priorities that the provincial government needs to accommodate and we can’t do it all at once.”
Safety is a big concern. According to the most recent numbers from the Office of Traffic Safety, 1,000 collisions occur annually on the Yellowhead. “That represents obviously a disruption to business, a disruption to commuters and obviously for people who are involved in these accidents, a real disruption for them and their families, costs, lost opportunity and unnecessary interaction with the health care system too,” Iveson said.
It’ll be at least two years of detailed engineering and land purchases before the ten year project really gets going. “It has been difficult for the province in this economic environment but I think they’re persuaded from what I can understand by the fact this will create 6,000 construction jobs which we badly need right now,” said Iveson. “We’re going to secure good pricing and it’s going to mean an improvement to the trade corridors in a part of our city that rely on a smooth functioning and safe Yellowhead.”
The feds have signaled an intention to do the project. However the final stage will come from them which is expected in the coming weeks. Once that happens the city’s infrastructure branch will begin the detailed planning work. One estimate is after the engineering firms finish that work, it could be five years before we’ll see the heavy equipment move in.