New funds announced to expand two highways, improve 'huge congestion points'

By Jackson Spring

Two highway improvement projects in the Edmonton region are getting a boost, following an announcement that the federal and provincial governments are investing more than $180 million between them.

The federal government announced on March 29 that it is contributing more than $73 million, while the Alberta government is contributing more than $114 million to double the lanes on Highway 19 near Devon and Beaumont and on Highway 15 connecting Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan.

The projects will aim to ease congestion, reducing traffic accidents and smoothing the trade network by allowing more volumes of commercial and industrial traffic through the two significant trade corridors.

"Improvements to these two highways will enhance road safety, help manage traffic volume, and reduce travel times for travellers and freight transporters," said Larry Bagnell, secretary to the federal minister of economic development.

Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global, said Highways 15 and 19 are critical to the region's economic development, since they connect areas that are already rapidly growing.

"There is exponential growth that is occurring in the southwest," Bruce said, pointing to the recently opened Amazon fulfillment centre in Leduc County, commercial and light industrial development around the Edmonton International Airport, and residential growth in the southernmost portions of Edmonton. "(Highway 19) directly connects Devon and Beaumont to those opportunities."

Meanwhile, Highway 15 is important for the transportation of goods into the Edmonton region that are produced in the industrial heartland to the northeast.

Presently, the only river crossing into Fort Saskatchewan is the two-lane Highway 15 bridge. (Courtesy of the Government of Alberta)

Presently, the only river crossing into Fort Saskatchewan is the two-lane Highway 15 bridge. (Courtesy of the Government of Alberta)

Bruce said both projects will improve the flow of the region's trade network.

"These are huge congestion points," he said.

The Highway 15 expansion will also include a second bridge leading into Fort Saskatchewan across the North Saskatchewan River. Mayor Gale Katchur told Taproot the new lanes will improve safety for commuters leaving and entering the city.

"This project was long overdue due to the volumes of traffic utilizing the highway and we have experienced many closures or delays due to accidents," she said.

The City of Fort Saskatchewan contributed $1 million to the construction of a pedestrian bridge which will accompany the highway improvements.

Construction on the Highway 15 twinning project began in summer 2019. The first phase — twinning the southwestern part of the highway outside of Edmonton, was completed in fall 2019. A spokesperson for Alberta's ministry of education told Taproot the new funds will go towards the second phase, which includes the new bridge and the section of highway outside of Fort Saskatchewan. Construction on this phase also began in 2019, but won't be completed until 2022.

The first of three phases of the Highway 19 twinning project, focused on the east section of the highway, was completed in fall 2019. The new funding is going towards the second phase covering the west section, while improvements to the middle section are still in the preliminary design phase. Phase 2 is expected to be completed in 2022.