By Lethbridge Herald on January 26, 2024.
“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 does this need for highway redesign exist? Because many highways, in initial design and function, failed to serve society’s complex needs.
They destroyed communities, made the poor poorer, and caused colossal devaluations in real estate.
Poorly designed interstate highways—they span the U.S.—were created because people with power and money wanted them, and because rural residents and low income neighbourhoods did not have the power to resist or reshape perceived progress.
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, the crippling of local and regional economies.
Residents impacted by these poorly designed roads talk of how yesterday’s highway construction degraded their communities.
The highways bankrupted thriving businesses, destroyed entire business districts, and prevented residents from neighbourhood shopping and walking or cycling to nearby grocery stores.
The people impacted by these social injustices describe the pain in 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 that serves a valid need to redesign and twin Highway 3 from Medicine Hat to Lundbreck, now threatens, at colossal cost, to sever and degrade the highway’s westernmost 45 km traverse of the province within the tight confines of the Crowsnest River valley.
This design flaw occurred because planners failed to recognize the worth of a largely intact headwaters landscape.
This, coupled with blind vision among affluent and politically connected twin-the-highway proponents, led to the creation of a plan that, if acted upon, would create wholesale collateral damage to the Crowsnest River valley corridor, the people of southwestern Alberta, and to Alberta as a whole.
It’s imperative that society recognizes the harm, the ecological and social degradation the proposed high-speed twinning of Highway 3 through this narrow river valley corridor would create. It’s imperative that quality of life values and the integrity of connected communities are 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 to support investments in authentic and transformational experiences) not be squandered in a headlong rush to create, at colossal cost, 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 in an ill-advised attempt to build a twinned, high-speed superhighway through deep time, trout-rich waterways, and drop-dead-gorgeous mountain ranges. Alberta does not need, nor want, nor can it afford, a community-consuming speedway with a high-speed exit ramp into British Columbia.
What Alberta does need, and can create at a fraction of the cost, is a highway designed to move traffic safely while maintaining and complementing the integrity of a remarkable landscape framed by spectacular thrust-faulted mountains.
Within Alberta and the greater Crowsnest Pass, Albertans can sustain and nurture a tourism paradise that already exists by simply ensuring that Crowsnest Pass’s foundation for future economic virtue is not needlessly compromised by a myopic vision that defines super-highway speed as the sole measure of a highway’s worth.
Proposed 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.
Within this historic and scenic corridor, Highway 3 residents and travellers require a design that:
* Places safety, health, and quality of life issues at the fore.
* Reduces the speed of travel to a level compatible with the footprint of the existing two-lane highway—a target speed of 80 km/hr Is envisioned.
* Opens the door to a vibrant art scene, photographic opportunities, and a year-round recreational wonderland.
* Introduces and promotes the existence of a community laden with historic worth, a living landscape with compelling old-world charm.
* Provides passing lanes, scenic pullouts, and places to gain added glimpses into this land of intrigue.
* Preserves internationally and spiritually profound viewscapes, such as the iconic, power peak views of Crowsnest Mountain and the similarly arresting views of Turtle Mountain and the 1903 Frank Slide.
* Perpetuates the deep time, sense-of-place-integrity of southwestern Alberta’s profoundly rich and historic Crowsnest River valley corridor.
* Incorporates a designated highway rest stop at Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site.
* Provides state-of-the-art wildlife corridors — cross-highway overpasses and underpasses designed to reduce the current large mammal mortality, millions of dollars in damage claims, and risk to human life.
The key to this vision lies in producing a design that, with a modest reduction in maximum highway speed and the creation of a uniform sustained speed, promotes a catch-and-release brand of tourism within the existing highway’s weaving, serpentine course past knife-edged mountain ranges.
Picture this: a highway where motorists think more about casting a fly than a need to keep their foot on the accelerator … a design that allows travellers to feel relaxed, able to see and contemplate exit options and opportunities to hike, fish, climb mountains, and immerse themselves in Canada’s storied past … a design that liberates thoughts of rising trout, bugling elk, and the ability to look up to see the world’s greatest concentration of migrating golden eagles.
Here, where the Crowsnest River has carved a magnificent trellis drainage between mountain ranges, the goal is not to fill the valley with concrete, or—as engineers have proposed—move the Department of Transportation Weigh Scales into the bloodiest core of Highway 3’s existing large mammal death-zone (Rock Creek).
The goal lies in retaining the raw beauty of the land, honouring and planning to accommodate wildlife and the connectivity of traditional wildlife corridors through the creation of strategic wildlife crossings (overpasses and underpasses) that are visually stunning in their conveyance of the importance of wildlife conservation and respect for the environment.
The community of Crowsnest Pass, the largest community in southwestern Albert (in size and population), is perfectly poised to put its world-class mountains and recreational opportunities on display.
In order to achieve this outcome in a multi-goal, 21st century way, it needs an award-winning Crowsnest Heritage Highway to save and serve its relaxed pace of life while channelling the flow of visitors and assisting in management of the region’s profound wealth in natural capital and cultural charm.
The Crowsnest Heritage Highway —designed with elegant simplicity and minimal impact on the environment — is a sustainable blueprint for the future, a vital component of Crowsnest Pass’s future worth.
The residents of Crowsnest Pass and Albertans do not need, nor want:
A Deerfoot Trail brand of high-speed superhighway that cuts though the heart and soul of headwaters virtue.
Racetrack noise—it scares wildlife and drives animals and people away!—and 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 one-billion dollars 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.
Its 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 lives on the land he loves in the storied headwaters of southwestern Alberta’s Oldman River. He has passionate interest—and knowledge—in diverse natural history disciplines, and is a strong advocate for the long-range economic and ecological worth of intact landscapes. David holds a MSc from the University of Washington (College of the Environment) 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.