Gale Katchur, the Mayor of Fort Saskatchewan, describes the recently-announced twinning of the Highway 15 bridge over the North Saskatchewan River as "a much-needed, critical infrastructure project."
"This project has been in the works for so many years. Over the course of four mayors, we've been lobbying for it," says Katchur.
Alberta's provincial government announced its intentions to twin the provincial bridge — and complete the twinning on Highway 15 into Fort Saskatchewan — during its March budget announcement.
The project comes with a price tag of between $200 and $300 million. The bridge dates to 1957 and is the only river crossing into Fort Saskatchewan, with one lane of traffic in either direction. Katchur says a study conducted last year indicated the bridge has about 10 years of life expectancy remaining.
"Highway 15 is the main artery into Fort Saskatchewan and Alberta's industrial heartland from the north," Katchur explains, noting the "industrial heartland" is home to more than 40 industrial plants and employs more than 7,000 people. Highway 15 is also the primary road across to north Edmonton.
Over the past eight years, daily traffic crossing the bridge has increased by 50 per cent, a statistic that Alberta premier Rachel Notley describes as "pretty staggering."
In fact, vehicles cross the bridge more than 23,000 times per day, whereas the bridge was only designed for 9,000 vehicular trips daily.
Katchur says there can be up to 45-minute delays across the bridge at peak times. When accidents occur, the bridge can be closed for four to five hours at a time. Moreover, the bridge has also been the site of fatal collisions.
"To me, this is a safety issue," Katchur says of the twinning plans.
Work is underway to retain an engineering consultant to start developing plans for the project, after which design work will begin immediately.
First, a new two-lane bridge will be built alongside the existing bridge; then, the original bridge will be rehabilitated. Once all that is complete, there will be four lanes of bridge, two going in each direction.
The project also includes the completion of the twinning on Highway 15 from east of the Highway 28A intersection into Fort Saskatchewan. In total, Katchur estimates some 10-12 kilometres will be twinned.
Plans have also already been drawn up — and funding secured — for double T-intersections to connect Highways 37 and 825 with Highway 15, also to make it safer.
Alberta's Minister of Transportation Brian Mason anticipates construction on the bridge will begin by 2019 and the project should be complete within three years after that.
Mason says, "Construction will provide hundreds of jobs" in the area over the next few years.
"This is an investment in safety for all of those who live, work and travel through this region," Mason adds, noting safer and more efficient transportation corridors will be better able to support further industrial investment in the area.