Alberta is unlikely to double the number of lanes on Highway 63 in northeastern Alberta in the wake of a crash that left seven people dead last week.

Deputy Premier Doug Horner says twinning the dangerous highway right away isn't as easy as it sounds.

"When you think about the amount of traffic that's on the road today; when you think about the amount of environmental sensitivity with some of the crossings that we have to do; when you think about the actual terrain — is pouring more money at it going to make it faster?"

Horner says completing 30 or 40 kilometers a year is the best way to get all 250 kilometers done.

"I think that what we do need to do is make sure that we're doing it on an ongoing basis that we're not disrupting the traffic patterns."

MLA to make twinning a priority

Horner was responding to growing demands to twin the road which connects Fort McMurray and the booming oilsands to Edmonton.

"Everyone would like to see it completed yesterday," said Mike Allen, incoming MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. "There's been many deaths on the highway in the last number of years."

'The things I have witnessed drivers doing on that road are insane.'—Truck driver Mike High

Allen said he'll push to make the work a priority when the legislature resumes.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith says people in the area have heard that promise before.

"I think what we’re hearing is that the Fort McMurray community is very upset. That they continue to get promised these things during elections and then once the election is over it falls off the priority list," she said.

Smith says the province should look about partnering with the regional government or oil companies to see if the project can be sped up.

The highway has earned the moniker The Highway of Death — it has been the scene of more than 1,000 crashes between 2001 and 2005, and 25 people have died. 

Recently, 33 kilometres of the 250-kilometre stretch of highway have been twinned, while another 36 will be completed by fall 2013. 

'Shame on you'

An online petition posted after five adults and two children died in a head-on crash north of Wandering River, south of Fort McMurray, has gathered almost 8,000 names in three days.

si-smith-highway-63-apr-30

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith says the the province has promised to make twinning the highway a priority before but hasn't delivered.

"If you do nothing to speed up the completion of this project, you are allowing tragedies to continue ...... shame on you!" wrote Julie Swift, who signed the petition Sunday.

Fort McMurray blogger Teresa Wells wrote an open letter to Premier Alison Redford on the night of the tragedy, saying the province isn't moving fast enough on promises to twin the busy highway.

"I think sometimes people forget about us way up north, and they're happy to see the economic benefits, but they dont' realize those come with a cost," she said.

More police on patrol urged

Wells also recommended the province put more police on the patrol to nab reckless drivers.

In fact some say twinning the highway will do little to reduce the number of crashes.

"I think we'll have the same number of accidents," said Hal Pressling, chief of the Plamondon volunteer fire department which attended the crash scene Friday.

"There will be a lot of accidents due to the speed and the rush people are in to get down that highway," he said.

Pressing's view is reinforced by at least one trucker who drives the highway regularly.

"I have already named it the highway of stupid drivers," said Mike High. "The things I have witnessed drivers doing on that road are insane."

"The worse time to be on that road is Thursdays which is shift change in Fort McMurray and the surrounding projects," said High, who drives a rig in the oil patch.

High said he sees:

  • Drivers speeding more than 40 km/h over the speed limit.
  • Speeding in blinding snow storms.
  • Passing on curves, blind hills or double-solid lines, or passing three or four tractor-trailer units at one time. 

He also sees drivers become impatient, leading to them taking risk and potentially endangering lives, he said.

Corrections

  • Mike High's comments were wrongly attributed in an earlier version of the story.
    Apr 30, 1970 8:45 AM MT