Opinion: A redesigned Highway 3 threatens Crowsnest Pass

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“Once you wreck a community, putting it back together is much more work than just removing an interstate.” That’s what Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, said as she contemplated the phenomenal costs associated with redesign and reengineering of more than 30 U.S. interstate highways.

Why the need for highway redesign? Because many highways, in initial design and function, destroyed communities and caused colossal devaluations in real estate. Poorly designed interstate highways were created because people with power and money wanted them, and because those less affluent did not have the power to define and shape progress.

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The times they are a-changin’.

Everyone knows that roads, armed with vehicles, kill wildlife. It’s taken longer for society to see how ill-conceived highways destroy human life and neighbourhoods.

The net result of flawed highway designs: severed communities, plummeting property values, and the crippling of regional economies.

Residents impacted by poorly designed roads talk of how yesterday’s highway construction degraded their communities, bankrupted thriving businesses and prevented residents from neighbourhood shopping and walking or cycling to nearby stores.  The people impacted by these social injustices describe the pain of seeing their communities wilt after highways were built.

The U.S. today is spending billions in efforts to undo these past wrongs, to correct the damage created by the costly construction of poorly designed interstate highways.

Here in Alberta, a vision to redesign Highway 3 from Medicine Hat to Lundbreck, now threatens, at colossal cost, to sever and degrade the highway’s westernmost traverse of the province.

This design flaw occurred because planners failed to recognize the worth of a largely intact headwaters landscape. This, coupled with blind vision among affluent twin-the-highway proponents, led to the creation of a plan that, if acted upon, would inflict wholesale collateral damage to the entire Crowsnest River valley corridor.

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Society must recognize the harm and ecological and social degradation the proposed high-speed twinning of Highway 3 through this narrow river valley corridor would create. The integrity of Alberta’s communities must be retained.

It’s imperative, too, that southwestern Alberta’s tourism worth, as recognized by Destination Canada’s Tourism Corridor Strategy Program (The Prairies to Pacific Corridor initiative) not be squandered in a headlong rush to create a community-dividing, concrete speedway through a spectacularly beautiful and vibrant Rocky Mountain landscape.

This is not the year, nor the century, for society to sit and watch as tunnel-vision engineers prepare to blast and bulldoze Alberta’s priceless heritage into oblivion.

Proposed instead is this: a Crowsnest Heritage Highway designation for the westernmost 45 km of Highway 3 in Alberta — from Lundbreck to the Alberta/British Columbia border.

Albertans do not need, nor want:

  • A Deerfoot Trail brand of high-speed superhighway that cuts through the heart and soul of headwaters virtue. 
  • Racetrack noise. It scares wildlife and drives animals and people away! Nor a cold, concrete, monolithic wall that severs and overwhelms the community and transforms the envisioned Jim Prentice Wildlife Corridor into the Jim Prentice Memorial Speedway.
  • To spend $1 billion to cripple one of Canada’s most intriguing, heritage-endowed, wildlife-abundant, scenery-rich communities and transform it into a wasted-space, high-speed exit ramp into British Columbia. 

It’s time to honour a revered, world-class, Crown of the Continent landscape, nurture quality-of-life living, and impress and attract world travellers with thoughtful decisions and designs that speak to a changing world, future wealth, and prosperity.

It’s time to bury yesterday’s high-priced, high-speed thinking and embrace the Crowsnest Heritage Highway.

David McIntyre holds an MSc from the University of Washington (College of the Environment) and, for decades, led multi-day study tours for the Smithsonian Institution throughout the U.S. West and the Canadian Rockies.

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