Province insists Highway 1A upgrades on schedule despite funding changes in Budget 2020

The province announced new road construction between Cochrane and Canmore last fall. Darren Makowichuk / Postmedia

The UCP government maintains that a project to widen Highway 1A between Cochrane and Canmore will remain on schedule despite fewer dollars allocated for upgrades over the next three years than initially forecasted in the 2020 provincial budget.

Still, the total funding envelope for the project remains the same over the long-term, according to the government.

Last fall, Alberta Transportation and the Stoney Nakoda First Nation signed an agreement for the transfer of lands needed for the widening and upgrading of Highway 1A. The province said the upgrades would make it safer for vehicles that travel that road.

The UCP government’s inaugural budget in October 2019 allocated $26.5 million over its four-year capital plan. Total funding for the project was pegged at $76.5 million, with the remaining $50 million to flow in future years.

But the 2020 budget appeared to suggest that the government would provide $7 million less during its current term than it initially committed.

A spokesperson for Transportation Minister Ric McIver said the provincial government provided $9 million in 2019-20. The 2020 budget allocated $10.5 million more by the 2022-23 fiscal year, totalling $19.5 million before the government’s current term is over.

The province says that work “has not stalled,” but rather would begin once a contract for the upgrades has been awarded. Design, environmental and archeological work must be completed before that happens.

The project includes the widening of more than 29 kilometres of the highway, from 6.7 metres to 13 metres. That will include adding shoulders on either side, making the ditches less steep, smoothing dips and hills and straightening curves.

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The funding levels listed in Budget 2020 for the Highway 1A expansion project reflect the work to be performed over the next two years, according to the government. Timelines also depend on the federal government’s land transfer process and archeological work timeframe and approvals.

But the province did not clarify why its most recent budget included the delay of $7 million in funds until after the current term.

The project remains on schedule and construction is expected to begin in 2023-24, it said. Once a contract is awarded, project work is expected to take two to three years to complete.

“The remaining funding will be provided in the years following,” Brooklyn Elhard, a spokesperson for McIver’s office, said in an email.

“We are investing in projects that connect Albertans and boost economic opportunities across the province. Budget 2020 maintains funding for the Highway 1A expansion project which will increase safety for the approximately 2,000 vehicles that travel the highway daily, as well as foster future opportunities for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

“It will also improve traffic flow between Cochrane and Canmore, as well as access to the Ghost Lake Recreation Area, a popular recreation destination.”

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