WESTLOCK – Westlock County council unanimously signed off on Alberta Transportation’s $900,000-plus plans to upgrade 700 metres of Highway 44 in front of the industrial park, a project that will see turning lanes and a traffic light added to stretch, plus a service road on the east side of highway, while two of the current exits/entrances to the park and all but one of the entrances on the east side of the highway will be closed.
At their Oct. 12 meeting, the final one before the Oct. 18 municipal election, councillors voted 6-0 to agree to the project that’s been on the books for at least the last half decade. The estimated project cost is $925,000 and the county will have to chip in $444,000, roughly 48 per cent — the money will come out of the county’s general operating reserve which is being topped up by MOST grant funds (by the end of the year that reserve fund will contain close to $2.1 million).
CAO Kay Spiess urged council to go forward with the project, saying Alberta Transportation was looking for a quick approval to get it into its 2022/2023 project schedule — if council would have deferred, Spiess said the project could have been pushed back to 2024. She, as well as then-deputy-reeve Brian Coleman, also noted that a further delay could mean a higher price tag.
“Costs could go up another 20 to 30 per cent. We are still the council of the day and we are allowed to make decisions. I think this is a very important decision and I see no reason to delay it further. Let’s not pass this on to the next council and let’s make a decision,” said Coleman.
Added then-Coun. Lou Hall, who while making the motion to proceed noted she would have liked to have seen two entrances/exits: “However, I think it’s not advisable to keep delaying it. It’s been four years already that it’s been on the books. I think we need to do something. We need the industrial park to be proper and it needs proper access.”
In the summer of 2018, 38 kilometres of Highway 44 south of Westlock was repaved at a cost of $21.5 million, but the stretch in front of the industrial park was shelved. Then-CAO Leo Ludwig said at the time design and property acquisition issues were still being worked through.
Reeve Jared Stitsen noted this issue was one of the first things they dealt with when he was first elected in 2017, but turnover at both the county and Transportation keep pushing it to the bottom of the to-do list.
“I think we saw this in our first couple of weeks on council and now at our last meeting it comes back again. We need to move this forward and it needs to be done,” said Stitsen.
“It’s great that Kay dug into it and bang, bang, bang things are happening. Our whole region needs to have this intersection so we can finally have the paving done from there up to Highway 18 in town. The poor people in town have been dealing with this highway of lumps and bumps forever.”
According to the plans provided to council, the most-northern and southern exits on the west side of the highway will be closed, while the second entrance will remain open and see a traffic light added. Exit and entrance lanes will also be added there, while highway access to the cemetery, as well as many of the east-side exit points will be shuttered and a service road will be added from the main entrance.
“They (Alberta Transportation) are confident one intersection will be more than sufficient for the existing park. There’ll be a light and there’ll be turnoff lanes,” said Spiess, noting in a follow-up interview she’s also been pressing area MLAs to get the project approved. “I think it’s smart to go ahead and do this.”
Spiess also noted that work will also tie in nicely with the county’s plans to conduct a feasibility study of the industrial park. At the same Oct. 12 meeting, the final of their four-year mandate, councillors agreed to allocate $110,000 from the municipality’s industrial park reserve to fund a study on the 18-year-old park that will catalogue what’s in place currently and then offer suggestions as to what to do next at the 100-acre site.
“This is a great step forward as far as economic development,” she said.
“It’ll make the industrial park much more attractive as well,” added then-Coun. Victor Julyan. “There’s going to be a dramatic improvement to the access to Westlock. There’s going to be mutual benefit.”