By Collin Gallant
Alta Newspaper Group – Medicine Hat
A plan to ease the task of moving extremely large machinery on Alberta’s highway network is underway according to a new long-term plan outlined by Alberta Transportation.
A designated high-load corridor was recently in the spotlight as the largest highway load in the history of the province made a four-day, 60-kilometre journey from Nisku to Fort Saskatchewan.
Just as the 820-tonne propane splitter was departing a fabrication yard, Alberta Transportation minister Brian Mason unveiled a new long-term plan for the highway system that sees extremely heavy machinery move around the province.
Such a designation of the Trans-Canada Highway between Medicine Hat and Brooks, where Highway 36 is a main north-south route, was a key part of economic development plans years ago.
It was argued the ability to send huge vessels and other machinery would open up industries to bid on fabrication and assembly work.
Designers with Alberta Transportation however, say that main routes such as the Trans-Canada are intentionally avoided with planning routes for slow-moving cumbersome loads for logistical reasons.
As the planning map reads now, the Highway 36 route may be upgraded and a long talked about ring-road around Medicine Hat would be built to such a standard.
“A key part of the study is figuring out where in the province should be considered core route or connector,” said Scott Beeby, an executive director at Alberta Transportation. “The Trans-Canada is a national highway, and we’re trying to keep these loads off, but we recognize it’s a principal route that connects anything coming from the east.”
Future bypasses of Bow Island, Taber and Coaldale along Highway 3 would also be able to accommodate loads 12 metres tall by restricting traffic signals, overhead bridge decks or requiring higher powerline crossings.
Other bypasses for Red Deer and Grande Prairie are also planned to keep the loads from snarling urban commutes.
“You want to keep them out of major centres for obvious reasons,” said Beeby, who said highway sections outlined in the study would be improved as regularly scheduled maintenance or upgrades are completed.
The entire corridor study suggests $1.6 billion be spent over the next two decades to improve stretches of road.
“I’m confident this strategy will help pave the way for longterm, sustainable economic growth and jobs in Alberta. Now, more than ever, this is critical for our province,” said Mason.
Right now, high loads from the United States that enter the province at Coutts travel north through Coaldale on secondary highways to meet Highway 36 near Brooks.
The proposal would be to improve the length of Highway 36 going north from Warner directly to near Brooks where it crosses the Trans-Canada Highway.
The stretch to Viking is currently able to accommodate loads 9.0 metres high, but stretches north of the Yellowhead Highway are not, meaning the tallest loads must jag westward to near Edmonton before moving north to Fort McMurray.
According to the new plan, northern lengths of Highway 36 would be improved over time and create a straighter shot from Warner to Fort Mac, a journey of 950 kilometres.