Premier Jim Prentice announced his government will spend $71 million to complete the twinning of Highway 63, the main corridor to the Alberta oilsands.

“Completion will make travel on this highway safer for everyone here, for family and coworkers and friends,” Prentice said to a room full of politicians, First Nations and community leaders in Fort McMurray on Thursday.

The money will be spent on twinning the final stretch of Highway 63, covering 12 kilometres just north of the Highway 55-Highway 63 junction, building a new inspection station, improving three intersections in the area and building 15 kilometres of service roads.

The work is expected to be complete by 2016.

Prentice also announced the creation of three new wetland habitat areas but provided no additional details.

Prentice said the final $71 million contract was awarded to Carmacks Enterprise last month.

While work begins on the part of the highway near Grassland, construction continues elsewhere on the 240 kilometre stretch of road that the Tory government has committed to twinning. Currently, 20 per cent of Highway 63 is twinned and open to traffic.

One of Alberta's deadliest highways

During the press conference Prentice acknowledged how the highway has long been a concern in Fort McMurray and for those who travel the highway regularly.

The highway is a busy route stretching north of Edmonton to Fort McMurray and north to the oilsands, where thousands of people work and tonnes of material and equipment move daily.

“The highway has been the source of needless accidents and fatalities that have been felt in this community,” Prentice said.

The Coalition for a Safer 63 and 881, an organization made up of oil and gas companies and other businesses, has tracked the number of crashes and fatalities on Highway 63 and the alternate highway leading north, highway 881.

Their website says between 2006 and 2010 there have been more than 3,000 crashes and 99 fatalities on Highway 63 and the alternate highway leading north, 881.

In 2012, calls for the twinning of Highway 63 grew louder when a head-on collision killed seven people near Wandering River, about 250 kilometres south of Fort McMurray.

Colin Hankinson, the acting chief of the Wandering River Fire Department, is skeptical the twinned highway will dramatically improve safety on the highway.

“It’s not really going to help the situation too much,” he said. “There will be less head on crashes but the speeds are going to increase.”

Meanwhile, work on the alternate route north, Highway 881, continues to be delayed.

“Two years ago some of the proposed investments on 881 were deferred. The focus at this point is the completion of Highway 63,” Prentice said.  

Contracts awarded:

  • September 2014: The final, $71 million contract was awarded to Carmacks Enterprise, covering 12 kilometres of base and paving. twinning just north of the Highway 55/Highway 63 junction, and construction of a new inspection station. Completion by 2016 
  • January 2014: Grading of 13 kilometres on Highway 63, north of Hangingstone River worth $16 million. Completion by 2015 completion.
  • December 2013: Base and paving of 17 kilometres, south of Wandering River worth $31.8 million. Compleltion by 2015.
  • December 2013: Base and paving work for 27 kilometres, near Wandering River and north worth $46.6 million. Completion by 2015. 
  • December 2013: Base and paving of 32 kilometres, north of Mariana Lake worth $27.2 million. Completion by 2015. 
  • November 2013: Grading, base and paving work for 38 kilometres near the Hangingstone River worth $129.5 million. Completion by 2016.