Crowsnest superhighway a bad idea
The latest edition of ISL Engineering’s Highway 3 planning exercise is on the table. It’s ugly. It showcases what can happen when engineers are given an equation in which speed, alone, defines outcomes.
Engineers assigned to create a twinned superhighway have proposed a plan that, if acted upon, would degrade one of Alberta’s most scenic river valleys, its rarest forest, a headwaters community, and numerous historic sites. Incongruously, they have also chosen to ignore the towering threat imposed by an unstable mountain, and are poised to desecrate the world-renowned Frank Slide.
If the proposed project is implemented, the sign at the Travel Alberta Information Centre greeting visitors from British Columbia will need to be reworded. My suggestion: Welcome to Alberta — land of wanton destruction.
The Crowsnest River valley’s tight, rockwalled serpentine course, paired with the adjacent expanses of tortured topography, would make a high-speed highway proposal on this landscape problematic even if the river, a community, an existing highway and a railway weren’t already part of the complex logistical equation.
Today, incredibly and absurdly, the highway-planning process on this landscape, like a runaway boulder, has crushed everything in its path. How did it acquire this false momentum?
The planning procedure needs to readdressed, and the people of Alberta need to be directly involved. Hundreds of millions of dollars — as well as health and safety issues — are hanging in the wind.
Some of the engineer-envisioned outcomes:
1. Construction of a “truck route” through the last remaining vestiges of an incredibly rare and ecologically intact Crowsnest River valley headwaters landscape;
2. Creation of a maze of roads within the historically “protected” Frank Slide;
3. Construction of an additional 30 kilometres of roads within the already overwhelmed-with-roads C rows nest River valley;
4. Installation of 30 km of large-mammal-proof fencing along both sides of the proposed speedway;
5. Relocation of the Alberta Department of Transportation Weigh Scales into the core of Highway 3’s bloodiest road-kill death zone.
I stood in disbelief during ISL Engineering’s public information session as a reviewer asked a presenter how to exit the proposed highway in order get to Castle Provincial Park. “What park?” was the ISL response.
The person asking the question was standing near the northern border of the park, but was ultimately told he’d need to drive east toward Pincher Creek in order to find the obscure feature.
Anyone looking at the big picture today — well, perhaps anyone other than a project-lusting engineer — can see there are physical constraints that overwhelm the available space and scream for a highway solution that favours human health and well-being, a slower pace, and safety.
The winning highway solution needs to embrace the land’s wealth of wildlife, its scenic splendour, its abundance of alluring cultural resources and historic sites.
This portion of Highway 3 deserves designation as a Heritage Highway, a label used to redefine the highway’s function, protect the land’s arresting beauty, and its value to society.
The primary design criterion: sustained landscape integrity.
The Frank Slide, North America’s most deadly rockslide, is one of Alberta’s most visible and widely known historical sites. It’s a haunting cemetery, a sacred sea of fractured tombstones. Is it time to dig up the dead?
Do the people of Alberta wish to destroy the historical and cultural value of this world-renowned asset in order to drive a little faster?
Let’s step back for a second. Let’s throw logic and sanity into the wind. Assume the worst. Imagine that engineered chaos will prevail. Envision the headwaters of the Crowsnest River consumed by a twinned superhighway … and realize that the recently named Jim Prentice Wildlife Corridor will need to be renamed the Jim Prentice Memorial Speedway.
As society works to create a better tomorrow, it’s imperative to plan for a future that serves, embraces and gives strength to a network of vibrant communities and the people who live within them. By supporting quality-of-life issues and putting sanity and safety ahead of speed, Albertans can sustain a paradise that already exists by simply ensuring that an existing foundation for future worth is not needlessly sacrificed.
There is no value in spending hundreds of millions of dollars to transform a revered, world-class, Crown of the Continent landscape into a high-speed exit ramp into British Columbia. This is not the way to impress — nor attract — world travellers.
The Crowsnest valley, long known as Disaster Alley, remains exposed to threats of colossal proportion. At the fore is a rockslide predicted to cascade into the Crowsnest River valley from the fractured, destabilized face of Turtle Mountain.
Is it not foolish to propose highway construction within the mapped and well-known path of a projected rockslide, a landscape scientists have told planners and community leaders to avoid due to the risk to human life?
Construction occurring in close proximity to Turtle Mountain can be seen to be particularly dangerous and illadvised. Blasting associated with road building or nearby mining activity can be expected to elevate the danger of the forecast rock avalanche, increasing its likelihood.
Underground miners in days-of-old said this: “You’re only as safe as the stupidest man in the mine.” The saying, today, might be dragged from the dark and dangerous depths of yesterday’s mines, exposed to the light of day, and used as a foundation for selecting members of a sound, futuristic planning team.
Whatever happens in the headwaters of the Crowsnest River valley, society, led by insurance companies and followed by lawyers, is sure to be watching.
David McIntyre lives on the land he loves in the storied headwaters of southwestern Alberta’s Oldman River. He holds a MSc from the College Of The Environment, University of Washington, and, for decades, led multi-day study tours for the Smithsonian Institution — via hiking and whitewater rafting trips — throughout the U.S. West and the Canadian Rockies.