ATHABASCA - Two local MLAs met with Athabasca County council last week to discuss the work that needs to be done on Highway 55, among other issues.
Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken and Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Laila Goodridge joined the county council meeting on Zoom April 13 where Goodridge informed council she has specifically driven the highway to see what the issues are.
“It was really cool to actually get to drive through your county a little bit more and see some different sights,” said Goodridge. “But with that said, the most recent time that I was driving I actually saw some Emcon employees out doing some pothole repairs on some of the biggest potholes, so that was a step in the right direction.”
van Dijken said CAO Ryan Maier had provided him information from former transportation minister Brian Mason, who had expressed to Athabasca County in 2018, a 2021 start date on Highway 55 improvements.
“When priorities exist (Alberta Transportation) works to get through those priorities as quickly as possible, but at the same time ensure that safety is always top of mind,” he said. “And so, we know that the design is complete on Highway 55, and it will get to hopefully tender within the next year. That's the report we had from the (Transportation) minister (Ric McIver) last week in our meeting.”
He noted the project is weather-dependent and there are leftover projects around the province that need to be completed, mentioning one that falls into Goodridge’s constituency.
“We did have a project that did get completed that's left with some concerns over in the Grassland areas,” said van Dijken. “So, hopefully this year — (it) looks like there’s possibility for an early start, a good start — and we can get caught up on some of those things.”
Coun. Dennis Willcott asked if Emcon Services could do more patching, noting that while some had been done earlier this year, there was a lot missing already and more that needed work.
“It is very difficult to do repairs unless the weather is right or they won't hold,” said Goodridge. “So, you can repair it and it's gonna tear itself apart by the time the next storm hits unfortunately. So sometimes you have to let the frost leave the ground.”
van Dijken said when the former government identified the highway as needing repairs it was originally to start three kilometres east of Highway 827 to Highway 63, but now includes everything from the intersection of Highway 2 in the Town of Athabasca, all the way east.
“Now the project is a project that's going to be right from Highway 2 in town there to Highway 63 and that might have delayed design work some,” said van Dijken. “I haven't received confirmation of that from the minister if that delayed the design work, but I felt it was important that the project would get completed right from the intersection in town right out to Highway 63.”
At the Nov. 3, 2020 meeting with Town of Athabasca council, Alberta Transportation district operations manager Paula Campbell informed council after Transporation declined installing crosswalk lights at the 49th St. intersection “the crosswalk should be considered for removal during upcoming paving.”
“This would be the ideal time for removal as the existing paint would not need to be milled off, potentially damaging the pavement,” said Campbell at the time.
Both Goodridge and van Dijken reiterated there are other projects around the province further along in the approval process, but that there are other highways with frost heaves that need repair too, specifically Highway 63, Goodridge noted.
“I’m not talking about frost heaves, I’m talking about a big trench like some kind of machinery went down there and took out a piece of the highway,” said Willcott. “There’s a difference between frost heaves and pieces took out of the highway.”
Coun. Penny Stewart also expressed frustration the project has been delayed again.
“It was recognized as an issue in 2018 and here we are still today,” she said. “And that’s concerning to me because is it going to be another three years and we’re going to be having the same conversation? I think it’s past a bad road, it’s a safety concern.”
van Dijken said the project has been approved, but because there are only so many companies in the province who can do the required work, he could not give a specific date.
“Just to add to that, we all want dates; we all want to see work started as fast as possible,” said Goodridge. “Things become challenging in some of these times when we're so dependent on the weather to get some of this work done.”
Goodridge added it’s important for people to use Alberta 511 to report concerns with highways.
“And to go one further, when Glenn was saying to bring to our attention concerns — bring to our attention and also contact 511 with a concern because it's a lot easier when we go into minister McIver's office saying, ‘I'm really concerned about this intersection’ and they're, ‘Yeah, we've had like 12 concerns brought forward to us about it through 511,’” she said.
Reeve Larry Armfelt thanked both MLAs for attending and providing information.
“I think that what council wanted this morning was to share the hurt — we want to share the pain that we are feeling as county councillors — and then maybe down the road here in the not-too-distant future we can share the success,” said Armfelt.