BIGHORN – The highway interchange at Dead Man’s Flats will one day have to be reconfigured to address future development in the area and more traffic along the Trans-Canada Highway.
In preparation for that day, which could still be 20 to 30 years down the road, the Province recently held an open house that included four possible options to reconfigure the interchange.
Each option includes moving the bridge spanning the highway further east and eliminating the westbound on and off ramps that currently takes drivers directly past the Husky Gas Station.
Instead, drivers will enter and exit the westbound lanes using a variation of on and off ramps that take drivers over Pigeon Creek. Three of the four options include a roundabout.
“This is a long-term planning study and it really depends on the rate of development in the area,” said Jerry Lau, an engineer with Alberta Transportation.
“Right now there is really no impetus for us to make any modifications if there isn’t any development, but we do want to get our plans in place so when development does proceed we know what the plans are and can build accordingly.”
Currently, the Smith Creek Area Structure Plan envisions adding a mix of residential housing and commercial development south of the Trans-Canada Highway from Dead Man’s Flats to Canmore. The proponent of the project is Three Sisters Mountain Village.
The proposal includes adding 1,200 to 1,700 units of low and medium density housing, which could add up to 4,000 new residents to Canmore once fully built. It will also include large areas of open space for recreation and a trail system.
One of the major sticking points preventing the area structure plan from moving forward was an application by the proponent to realign the wildlife corridor that runs through the area.
On June 26 – more than a year after it submitted its application – Alberta Environment and Parks rejected the application because the wildlife corridor would not be wide enough. At it’s narrowest point it would be 293 metres wide, falling short of the minimum 350 metre requirement.
Besides preparing for future development, the interchange will also need to be redeveloped in order to accommodate more traffic on the highway.
“As the traffic volume on the highway increases it will reach a point where we would need to widen the highway,” said Lau, adding that could also be 20 or 30 years away.
Martin Buckley, CEO for the Municipal District of Bighorn, said future development in Dead Man’s Flats isn’t likely to have a major impact on traffic volumes.
“As per the Dead Man’s Flat area structure plan, there’s a chunk of land to the east for light industrial development and there’s some redevelopment of lots within the hamlet, but I don’t know that what we’re proposing will have a substantial impact,” said Buckley.
A proposal to build a wildlife overpass east of the hamlet and install wildlife fencing along the length of the highway is not part of the interchange project, however, any reconfiguration will change how drivers access the Husky Gas Station and other businesses in the hamlet.
Paul Kalra, owner of the Husky, was unable to attend the open house held on June 21 and declined to comment.
Buckley acknowledged that changes could affect local businesses.
“We certainly want them to thrive and succeed and want to make sure the businesses aren’t materially harmed by that change,” said Buckley. “We’re continuing to participate in these discussions and we will be examining the feedback that was received last night later on in July.”
Both Buckley and Lau confirmed that the interchange project could also affect the community garden approved by the MD in May.
“We made it clear to the community that we are currently doing a study and their garden may be impacted,” said Lau.
Buckley echoed his comments, adding administration initially favoured a different location, but ultimately went with the community’s desired spot, which is between River’s Bend Gate and Second Avenue, east of Pigeon Creek.
Following the open house, Alberta Transportation will review feedback from the stakeholder meeting and open house before completing further technical analysis of the options and selecting one of them.
If approved by the Province, the recommended concept will be presented to the public during another open house in fall. Currently, the project remains unfunded.