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Notley government says yes to Yellowhead makeover, feds to review project

Click to play video: 'Notley government announces willingness to help pay for Yellowhead Trail makeover'
Notley government announces willingness to help pay for Yellowhead Trail makeover
WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton drivers are one step closer to seeing major improvements to Yellowhead Trail after the Alberta government said it would contribute $241.6 million to the project. Sarah Kraus has the details. – Nov 2, 2016

A plan to give one of Edmonton’s most crucial traffic corridors a facelift is coming closer to fruition as Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason announced the province will pay for its share of the makeover if Ottawa agrees to pitch in as well.

In order to accommodate an anticipated spike in traffic along Yellowhead Trail over the next 30 years, the City of Edmonton is hoping to see a complete overhaul of the north side route, a plan that would see $1 billion spent on building new overpasses in order to convert it to a freeway.

READ MORE: Edmonton mayor meets with local businesses to discuss potential revamp of Yellowhead Trail

Watch below: Every year, emergency crews respond to nearly 1,000 collisions on Edmonton’s Yellowhead Trail. With traffic on the already busy road set to double over the next 30 years, the city says now is the time to make long-needed improvements. On Sept. 26, 2016, Tom Vernon filed this report on what’s being proposed.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton pushes for Yellowhead Trail overhaul to get rolling'
Edmonton pushes for Yellowhead Trail overhaul to get rolling

“It’s a major route within the city for the transportation of goods and services, a heavily-utilized route and something that they consider to be a very significant priority,” Mason said. “In the provincial government, we decided that was a project we should support. We’re interested in supporting projects that create economic growth and jobs and we believe this is one.”

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The NDP government said it was prepared to pay for its portion of the funding – $241.6 million – but added that money would only begin flowing in 2021 because of other provincial commitments.

“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,” Mason said.

Mason’s announcement came just hours after federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced billions of dollars of additional federal infrastructure funding, although details of exactly where the money will be spent were not released.

READ MORE: Liberals announce Canada infrastructure bank: what is it and how does it work?

“Great news from Ottawa today that the federal government is considerably increasing and extending its commitment to infrastructure,” Mayor Don Iveson said. “I’m pleased to hear that the province has signed off on the application – essentially to the federal government – and agreed to match the funds if Ottawa is able to approve funding for the Yellowhead through the national component of the Building Canada Fund.

“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.”

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Iveson has hinted in the past that he believes federal funding for the Yellowhead makeover will be forthcoming. In September, he said Ottawa was “in a good position to look favourably upon this project but is awaiting a signal from the province that this is a provincial priority.”

Iveson said he hoped to speak to federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, a former Edmonton city councillor, later on Tuesday afternoon.

“Certainly with minister Sohi, when he was here on council, (he) certainly understands this,” Coun. Tony Caterina said with regard to whether he believes Ottawa will be interested in helping to fund the Yellowhead project. “The federal government will now have to do their due diligence obviously in moving this forward from their end of the project so, extremely pleased at this point but again, we want to make sure that it comes to fruition and to an end with all the funding.”

Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi reiterated the federal government’s commitment to public transit and infrastructure at a press conference in Toronto Wednesday morning.

He also acknowledged the Alberta government’s decision to contribute to the Yellowhead Trail project and said the federal government will now review the request.

“We were waiting for the confirmation from the province so we will take to the next stage and with the next month or so, before the end of the year, we will have the final decision on that,” he said.

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According to the city, up to 80,000 vehicles make their way down Yellowhead Trail every day and over the next 30 years, the number of drivers on the roadway is expected to double.

The province said the most recent data it has received showed that about 1,000 collisions occur annually on Yellowhead Trail.

“By moving ahead with this now, taking advantage of low construction prices, creating jobs when they’re desperately needed, and solving this generation-old transportation capacity and safety issue, is going to mean that 10 years from now, when it’s all said and done, many mayors down the road, someone cuts the ribbon and opens the thing, then we’ll have just caught up with the capacity that’s needed for that time, 10 years out from now,” Iveson said.

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