What you need to know about Calgary's southwest traffic 'nightmare'

If you've driven in southwest Calgary, then you know — all the road construction underway is causing some major traffic headaches, and they aren't going away in the near future.

It's painful, and it's not going away any time soon

A construction worker controls the flow of big trucks onto the site of Bow Trail's widening project in southwest Calgary. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

The sun glints off a sea of vehicles all trying to get into one lane of traffic. 

Frustrations heat up as fast as the summer temperatures outside while drivers try to file into line in an orderly fashion while avoiding bright orange construction pylons, large yellow excavators and massive trucks of all colours hauling materials in and out.

Which road you ask? Well, take your pick. Most of the major roads in southwest Calgary are under construction.

Traffic comes to a standstill on 14th Street in the city's southwest as work is done on the new Bus Rapid Transit system. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

"It has pretty much been a nightmare," said Kerry Grant, who works reception at Oakridge Chiropractic and lives nearby.

"We get calls regularly, every day, saying, 'I'm stuck in traffic [and] I'm never going to make my appointment'…. It's a constant source of struggle for everybody."

Grant says work is being done on every single east-west and north-south route to the clinic.

"We have construction going on currently on Heritage Drive, Elbow Drive, 14th Street, 90th Avenue, Southland Drive, Anderson Road, the ring road — it's everywhere," she said. 

And the routes can change on a daily basis.

"It's a constantly shifting thing. You can't keep track of which lanes are going to be closed at which time of day, or even which day," said Grant.

Another source of frustration is construction zones that have lane closures, but no workers. Or speed limits that jump around so much it leaves even the most seasoned driver confused.

And traffic apps don't help, according to Grant's colleagues.

"One day I opened it ... and it said Southland Drive. I walked out to the car, got into the car, tapped it in to see how long it would take me and it changed to Heritage Drive," said Skye Port.

She also finds it annoying that some roads just upgraded last year have been ripped up again for these projects. 

"I feel like the city has been a little bit lax in letting us — the population who pays their taxes — know what's going on in their area and how long it's going to take. I think people are a little frustrated," she said. "Well, I know they are because people are coming in every day and complaining to us about the traffic."

Pretty much every major route in southwest Calgary is undergoing some construction, like this work on Spruce Meadows Trail on the southern edge of the city. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

That trapped feeling

Another disgruntled driver is Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who lives in Palliser.

"It's different than usual…. There are no alternatives," he said, adding he feels locked in his own neighbourhood.

And he's not alone. 

Farkas is also concerned about pedestrian safety, as construction zones with ripped-up sidewalks can be confusing. Emergency vehicles also have to get through the mayhem.

The Ward 11 councillor says from emails, calls and recent town halls, roughly half of the feedback he's getting is about construction. He hopes a new survey will give him some better feedback on what the city can do to help in this painful time.

Pedestrian safety is a major concern in some areas under construction. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart agrees the situation is not ideal.

"It's unbelievably inconvenient to really move around in that whole southwest quadrant," she said.

But things may be a little different in Ward 6. The councillor there is Jeff Davidson, and he said the feedback in his community — which has long had access problems to other areas of the city — has been 99 per cent positive.

"It's been like, 'Hallelujah, it's here,'" he said, adding there has been a desperate need for new connections in the area.

Why all at once?

One question many are asking is why everything is happening at the same time.

Grant says it's bad for business at Oakridge Chiropractic, and probably for many other southwest companies.

"It probably would have been better if it was staggered so we had at least one easy access route in and out that was kept open for people," she said. "But the fact that all of the routes are [under construction] seems like a lot of hassle without a lot of gain coming out of it."

The scale of some of the projects happening on Calgary's southwest edge are massive, like this work being done where 37th Street turns into Fish Creek Boulevard. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

Colley-Urquhart calls all the work being done in Ward 13 "a disaster."

"I am really disappointed that city transportation couldn't have planned this a little bit better but on the other hand, it is sort of out of their control because of the province's involvement with the ring road," she said.

And other projects have provincial and federal funding with very specific deadlines.

Sean Somers, with the city's road department, says it's mostly just timing and coincidence as the city works to meet those timelines.

Construction workers make upgrades to the bridge over 16th Avenue just south of Sarcee Trail in the southwest. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

"We got a window of when that work needs to be completed — that happens to be the next couple of years," he said.

"So for sure we are empathetic with those folks. I live in the south as well, so I've been caught up many times in that corner of the city and the various construction delays, so I get it. It's frustrating. It's unfortunate that it's happening all at once, but ... summer is a time when we need to do this work. We gotta make hay while the sun shines, as it were."

He says it's short-term pain for long-term gain, and the city is trying to complete most of the work in off hours. Somers says some projects will wrap up by the end of this year, but the majority are slated to finish in fall 2019 — except, of course, the new leg of the ring road.

Noise restrictions amoung issues that may prevent late-night roadwork from moving ahead on many projects. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

A big boost to infrastructure spending during the recession also pushed forward projects, which Somers says led to an almost record-level of construction in the city.

"On the flip side, people are working. Construction is happening. People are employed," he said.

"The down side is it's a bit of a pain in the side to get around, and things are slow — particularly in the southwest. Like I say, it's been hit bad there in terms of just the sheer volume of work that's happening in a relatively small area."

Southwest Calgary traffic woes

5 years ago
Duration 1:03
Southwest Calgary traffic woes