LAKELAND - Expanding rest areas for motorists travelling along provincial highways in Alberta is a part of a new initiative put forward by the province.
The proposed rest stops may include not only space for commercial and recreational motorists to stretch their legs, but also fill up on gas, eat, and recuperate safely during trips. The rest areas will be added to select areas across Alberta, said Alberta’s Minister of Transportation, Prasad Panda in a statement released on Aug. 9.
“Alberta’s highways connect businesses and travellers with trade and leisure opportunities. Developing new rest areas will enhance convenience and safety for the businesses and tourists who travel Alberta’s highways,” said Panda.
A plan to create new rest areas has been in the works since this winter, with construction set for the summer of 2024. Currently, commercial bids are open for future rest areas until December when contracts are expected to be awarded in late 2023, according to the statement.
For commercial users in the Lakeland, the proposed future additions are welcome for drivers that make regular trips throughout Alberta, said Gerald Wowk, President of Lac La Biche Transport. Operating and moving large materials relative to the oil field industry through the Fort McMurray corridor while travelling to Edmonton routinely from the region, Wowk says having more spaces available for his staff and other commercial drivers during long drives is positive.
“It gives them a break from sitting in the seat for five or six hours.”
In recent years, Wowk says he’s noticed more locations serviced with food, gas and washrooms open on major highways to the north and around the region.
“The last 15 years, they’ve added a number (or areas) all over on Highway 36,” he said, adding, Highway 63 and Highway 28 also appear to have more stops, which are usual routes drivers take when transporting goods.
Safety for motorists
Ultimately, with more locations on the way, it's not only beneficial for commercial users who may experience fatigue during hauls, but also for recreational motorists who share the highway space and need a safe location to take breaks.
“When drivers are fatigued or have to stop and don’t have a place to stop, sometimes stopping in the wrong place is going to be an issue,” said Wowk. Moreover, it helps avoid situations where people are forced to pull over on emergency lanes, he added.
While Wowk finds the current rest areas throughout the three-hour trip north to Fort McMurray sufficient, he would like to see more rest areas created toward the south, from Lac La Biche to Edmonton, for example.
“We go to Edmonton too, but there isn’t a place to stop,” he says, hoping to see the provincial initiative create safe spaces along that route.
For some female truck drivers in Alberta, the rest stops don’t just mean an opportunity to relax, but also a safer and more “ideal rest stop.” Rest stops that are well lit, example, are important, according to Shannon Holicza, in-cab instructor at Bison Transport, based in Sherwood Park.
“I am delighted that the Alberta Government has launched an initiative to improve rest areas. Drivers are typically behind the wheel for up to 13 hours daily. Having a safe, clean place to refresh can make all the difference,” said Holicza.
After Alberta Transportation evaluates proposals, it will select the highest scoring one and negotiate the scope for each of the selected sites, according to information from the provincial government.
“Sites currently identified for development and any future sites will only be developed following consultation and input from local stakeholders.”
The province also noted that “Costs associated with commercial developments will be paid by the private sector and recovered through business revenue.”