City presses ahead with S.W. road upgrades

Calgary city council has voted unanimously in favour of an urgent motion by Mayor Dave Bronconnier to press ahead with a major interchange that was held up by years of negotiation about the southwest ring road.
Calgary's mayor would like to see construction start on an interchange at Glenmore Trail and 37th Avenue S.W. as early as next year. ((CBC))

Calgary city council has voted unanimously in favour of an urgent motion by Mayor Dave Bronconnier to press ahead with a major interchange that was held up by years of negotiation about the southwest ring road.

Bronconnier asked council on Monday to approve plans to build an interchange at the intersection of 37th Street and Glenmore Trail as early as next year.

With the motion passing by a vote of 15-0, a city report is slated to be delivered to council on Sept. 14 on designs for improvements to Glenmore Trail west of Crowchild Trail, including the 37th Street interchange, as well as cost estimates and financing.

Bronconnier also asked that the report examine additional lanes along Glenmore Trail and 14th Street.

"It's unanimous that city council wishes to move forward with Plan B, which will improve traffic movements in the southwest quadrant. We have to move forward and will be moving forward with the province of Alberta in a partnership to see that highways are connected and roads are improved," Bronconnier told CBC News on Monday evening.

The interchange proposal had been on the backburner for years while the province negotiated with the Tsuu T'ina First Nation to run the southwest ring road through the reserve. On June 30, more than 60 per cent of band members who voted rejected a land and cash agreement with the province.

With Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach saying that he considers the deal dead, the province and city are moving ahead on nailing down a Plan B for the southwest portion of the road, which is designed to ease traffic congestion in the city.

Bronconnier said the 37th Street interchange is a priority, and the city will likely look at private-public partnerships to get it built.

"That backs up cars at some times almost back to Crowchild Trail so it's time to move on with it. We've waited a long time," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the construction will help.

"Seems to me that's just gonna add more traffic into the neighbourhood, into the whole southwest in general," said Ken Pinsky, who lives in the Lakeview neighbourhood.

'Moving forward with a plan'

The need for a southwest connector road was first identified in 1959. The failed negotiations between the province and the Tsuu T'ina are reported to have cost $6 million in legal and consulting fees over the past five years.

"Forty years of other levels of government talking about roads is long enough. I think [the] City of Calgary, we're now in a position where we can move forward without wasting our money," said Ald. Brian Pincott.

When asked if Plan B would include the Weaselhead Flats natural area, Bronconnier said he didn't know.

"[People] shouldn't be worried about anything right now. What they should be concerned about is moving forward with a plan. We'll have all of the pieces of information for Calgarians and southern Albertan residents when we meet with the province... towards the end of December."

But Noel Keogh, an assistant professor of sustainable design at the University of Calgary, believes the city should invest in public transit and rail — not roads — especially with higher gas prices looming.

"Whether the road and truck method of moving goods is going to be sustainable in the next 20 to 30 years is a big question I don't think has been asked. That kind of risk assessment, long-term thinking hasn't been asked in terms of the ring road, and whether that investment is worth it," said the urban sustainability expert.

A new portion of the northwest section of the ring road opened to traffic from Sarcee Trail N.W. to Harvest Hills Boulevard N.W. on Friday. Drivers can now use a seven-kilometre stretch of road, the interchange at Beddington Trail N.W. and the signalled intersection of Harvest Hills Boulevard.

Stoney Trail N.W. is anticipated to be fully open to Deerfoot Trail by this fall, said the province.

Work is also underway on the northeast and southeast sections.