Work to improve a busy section of Deerfoot Trail in Calgary is taking a step forward after the cancellation of a previous provincial plan.
Speaking Friday afternoon at the Calgary Chamber, Premier Danielle Smith announced the request for proposals (RFP) for work along Deerfoot between Glenmore Trail S.W. and the Ivor Strong Bridge has gone out to industry, with work expected to start in spring 2023 and be completed in four years.
Smith referenced her time as a radio talk show host, saying she would complain about that seven kilometre stretch of provincial highway “every day.”
“So now I’m in a position to do something about it and hopefully we’ll be able to solve that problem for all Calgarians who use it,” the premier said.
“Deerfoot Trail is Alberta’s busiest road. It has about 180,000 vehicles on it per day. And as the city grows, traffic is going to grow with it, leading to longer travel times and delays for business.”
The work involves adding a lane in each direction, twinning the Ivor Strong Bridge and improving traffic flow between Southland Drive S.W. and Anderson Road S.W./Bow Bottom Trail S.W. Seven new bridges will be built as part of the work.
The changes are expected to reduce morning commutes by 15 per cent and evening commutes by 22 per cent at peak travel hours.
“It goes to show that there is such a clogged area of the city that needed these improvements. And so I think it’s been a long time coming,” Transportation and Economic Corridors Minister Devin Dreeshen told Global News.
“It’s a major artery for the province, not just a major trade corridor going north and south throughout the province, but it also connects the Calgary International Airport.”
Dreeshen was named to the transportation portfolio three weeks ago, after Smith was sworn in as premier.
A Calgary councillor said the announcement of the work on the south Deerfoot interchange is good news for the city.
“I actually drive that interchange quite often, and I think, as the premier said, if we can get people to come to places 15 to 20 per cent faster than they ever have, that’s great,” Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said.
Chamber president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said the infrastructure investment should pay dividends when it comes to economic productivity.
“The ease of being able to go from one end of the city to the other is critical,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times, when my kids were younger, people would have to leave their work early to get on the Deerfoot to get their kids to a soccer game because they knew they were stuck in traffic.
“So anything that we can do to eliminate those bottlenecks, increase economic productivity and decrease people’s transit times, whether it’s on the Deerfoot, the ring road or the green line and lines to the airport, it’s all positive for Calgary.
“And it’s really good for our branding because it says that we’re investing in the future of the city.”
In July, the province announced it was cancelling the previously planned public-private partnership (P3) approach to all of the work identified along Deerfoot Trail, from 11 Street N.E. to Anderson Road S.W.
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“Current economic conditions have resulted in pricing volatility and historically high inflation in the construction industry, which means a P3 approach to Deerfoot Trail improvements is not economically viable,” then-transportation minister Prasad Panda said in a statement on July 12.
In August, Panda announced construction for work on 64 Avenue N.E. and McKnight Boulevard N.E. would begin in the fall, taking about a year to complete.
This is the second of the five areas identified for improvement the province has announced RFPs for after scuttling the P3 plan.
Dreeshen said he expects to announce costs for this stretch of Deerfoot Trail work after the RFP process closes. He also expects to soon announce RFPs and start dates for work for the other areas of the highway – at 11 Street N.E. and at Glenmore Trail.
“Ideally, we’d love to get all the tendering done in the winter because it just helps the construction companies. They know what to prepare and plan for in the spring, so you can hit the ground running as soon as Mother Nature cooperates,” Dreeshen said.
In 2020, the City of Calgary and the Transportation Ministry published the Deerfoot Trail Study, following a four-year study and consultation process.
Kowtowing to Cowtown
Calgary political scientists aren’t surprised at the timing of the announcement, given recent polling that indicates the Smith-led United Conservatives trail the Opposition NDP, and a general election will be held around the time shovels will break ground on south Deerfoot Trail.
“It’s quite clear that Danielle Smith needs a substantial number of votes in Calgary if she wants to win the next election,” Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams told Global News. “Her polling numbers are not good news for her, and she’s got some significant ground to make up.
“And that probably would have been the case even if she hadn’t made those initial controversial statements about Calgary.”
Williams pointed to Calgary-specific statements Smith previously made, like those against the Springbank offstream flood mitigation project and questioning the Green Line LRT’s planned path.
“All of these things, I think, raised questions about whether she understood Calgary and whether she was really committed to representing and serving Calgary,” Williams said. “And so she’s clearly gotten the message that that’s the concern coming out of Calgary. She’s trying to offset that.”
Williams expects winning seats in Calgary to be vital for any party trying to form government in 2023.
University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young likened Calgary to “the Quebec of Alberta politics.”
“(It) switches parties erratically, is necessary to form the government, and is the focus of much attention in election years,” Young posted on social media.
Williams questioned whether region-specific promises will win votes provincewide.
“I think competence and improvements in the areas where Albertans are really struggling and suffering is going to be the key, and that’s a difficult thing to accomplish.”