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Bighorn throws conditional endorsement behind Dead Man's Flats interchange study

The MD of Bighorn is giving conditional endorsement to the Dead Man's Flat interchange planning study that was completed by Alberta Transportation earlier this year

BIGHORN – Alberta Transportation has requested endorsement for the Dead Man's Flats interchange functional planning study and while the MD of Bighorn said it will support the study, there are conditions.

A list of concerns about potential challenges for Dead Man's Flats such as traffic delays for residents, large commercial vehicles tracking into imposing lanes at intersections and making First Avenue businesses less accessible to Trans-Canada traffic are just some of the concerns raised in a letter MD of Bighorn council approved to send to Alberta Transportation.

"The planning study identifies an interim solution, but does not identify thresholds before the full build-out of the improvements will be implemented, leaving the decision to the discretion of others," stated the draft letter addressed to Alberta Transportation infrastructure manager from the MD.

Earlier this year, Alberta Transportation asked for endorsement from the MD of Bighorn and Town of Canmore in relation to an interchange functional planning study on Highway 1 at Dead Man's Flats.

The study has been in the works since 2017, with infrastructure manager Jerry Lau noting a final report has been produced. In the request, Lau said the municipalities could make any comments in their letter for future reference.  

"I like the letter and the tone of the [draft] letter ... but it doesn't sound like we are endorsing this," Councillor Lisa Rosvold said during the Sept. 8 virtual council meeting.

In the draft letter to Alberta Transportation, the MD did not clarify whether it supports or opposes the study, but outlined concerns about potential temporary closures and upgrades.

"The MD of Bighorn acknowledges Alberta Transportation's efforts to plan future upgrades at the Highway 1 Dead Man's Flats interchange to accommodate additional traffic which will be generated from development within the Town of Canmore," stated the draft letter. 

"Although the MD recognizes that the upgrade will divert traffic from the new development directly onto Highway 1 to safeguard the existing community along Second Avenue, we continue to express our concerns of the proposed closure of the west highway on-ramp."

Bighorn Reeve Dene Cooper noted the proposed temporary closures in the study does not offer a lot of advantages to Dead Man's Flats residents.

"It seems to be a cost to [the MD] indeed," he said on Tuesday.  

Last November, Alberta Transportation officials held an open house, showcasing several options for the current interchange with a preferred plan and ultimate configuration. The options moved the current bridge spanning the highway further east with the preferred plan consisting of two diamond interchanges and eliminating the westbound off-ramp that connects Dead Man's Flats to the Trans-Canada Highway.

At the open house, several residents raised concerns about closing the westbound off-ramp, which Lau noted was policy for interchange upgrades.

"It is our policy when an interchange goes in, all other aggregates get closed so this would have to be closed, as per Alberta Transportation policy, but it can be revisited in such time as the interchange gets constructed, which could be 10, 20 or 30 years," Lau previously told the Outlook.

The infrastructure manager also noted the construction depends on the rate of development in the area, especially the Canmore side.

Three Sister Mountain Village, which is the developer of the lands inside Canmore's urban growth boundary that extend to Dead Man's Flats, is moving forward with two proposed Area Structure Plans (ASP). That includes the Smith Creek ASP, which includes Thunderstone Quarry, although it has yet to be officially submitted as an application to the development authority yet. 

The draft letter to Alberta Transportation from the MD was presented to council during the September virtual council meeting. Along with concerns about the proposed westbound off-ramp closure, the MD also outlined how the proposed upgrades would create new demand for pedestrians and bicycles along First Avenue and Second Avenue.

"The resulting impacts have not been addressed by the planning study, and would become the responsibility of the MD," the draft letter read.

During the Bighorn council meeting, Coun. Paul Ryan suggested the letter include a sentence saying the MD supports the majority of the study, but cannot give complete endorsement.

"This is a letter that will be pulled out of a file in five to 10 years from now ... we should say we cannot endorse it currently as proposed," he said.

Council unanimously – with the exception of Coun. Paul Clark who was absent from the meeting – approved an amendment to the letter clearly stating it is a conditional endorsement.  



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Jenna Dulewich

About the Author: Jenna Dulewich

Jenna Dulewich is a national and provincial award-winning multi-media journalist. Joining the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019, she covers Stoney Nakoda, MD of Bighorn, Canmore and court.
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