May 19th, 2024

Is a toll bridge to West Lethbridge worth considering?

By Al Beeber on November 27, 2021.


Would Lethbridge residents be willing to pay a toll for a third bridge if that meant construction could start sooner?
It’s a question that came up in a discussion I had recently with Lethbridge East MLA Nathan Neudorf about various issues including legislation the UCP wants to get passed during the fall session.
A third bridge is a contentious issue in Lethbridge. Some say it’s needed, some say they don’t venture to the west side so they would never support it.
Such a project came up provincially last year when a toll highway project was proposed to finance a new bridge near the community of La Crete. The bridge is to replace a ferry crossing, connecting Highway 697 over the Peace River.
Neudorf suggested that such toll projects could speed up the process of getting projects approved.
With 40,898 residents in 2020, West Lethbridge is the highest populated area of the city. And the two bridges across the Oldman River are busy not only during the morning and afternoon rush hours, they are loaded with traffic all day and much of the night as residents know.
In winter or any time of year when an accident prompts closures or delays of one bridge, accessing the west side via the other bridge can be extremely time consuming. And when both bridges are closed in part or completely, getting across the river can be impossible or subject to lengthy delays. We’ve all experienced this and as a commuter who is regularly at the office now by 6 a.m., I am pretty shocked how much busier Whoop-Up Drive has gotten since the mid-2000s.
A third bridge would not only provide a safety valve during bridge closures or when inclement weather prompts speed reductions, it would quicken the commute from areas of the west side to south Lethbridge.
As Neudorf suggested, the shorter distance could mean fuel savings. To my thinking, it could also mean increased productivity without having to leave for work earlier.
But many in the city are opposed to a third bridge because they see no reason to venture west. This is unfair to westsiders who by necessity have to travel daily across the river for work, commerce, shopping, medical and professional needs.
Those who don’t visit the west side don’t know what they’re missing – it’s a vibrant area with beautiful parks, schools, the university, several modern and clean grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, doctors (for those who still have one) and dentists. It also has the fabulous ATB Centre that is home to the Lethbridge Curling Club and the Cor Van Raay YMCA plus two NHL-sized arenas.
What it’s missing are car dealerships, a big box store and other amenities residents of north and south Lethbridge may take for granted. So commuting across the river is a necessity.
Some residents don’t want to pay more taxes for a third bridge, which is an argument we’ve heard and will continue to hear as long the topic is open for debate.
If a third bridge is valuable and needed, I wonder if people on both sides of the river who use it would be willing to pay out of their own pocket to have it.
It’s certainly something I wouldn’t have an issue with if that would reduce the tax increase the bridge would cost us as long as the toll was reasonable. ‘Reasonable’ is a pretty vague term, I know, so the number crunchers would have their work cut out to make a convincing argument to city residents.
I would personally benefit from a third bridge as would many I know. Because of this, I could see a toll bridge being worth considering at the right price.
It’s not like such a project is a foreign concept in Canada which has several toll bridges and roads.
Certainly, it’s newish to Alberta and might take a lot of convincing to get Lethbridge residents onboard for such a project. In the meantime, there would be a lot of debate and argument, not only about the concept of a toll bridge, but the need for the bridge itself, the latter discussions which have been going on for years.
Is this an idea that’s ready to be considered in Lethbridge or is it farfetched? I know many here will dismiss and diss the UCP no matter what it proposes on anything – the same can be said about the NDP, I will point out – because many issues tend to be politicized in our polarized province, but with the growing population on the west side, a strong argument can be made that two bridges are not enough anymore.
Is the argument strong enough to get moving on the third bridge? Would a toll concept move discussions along quicker?
It doesn’t hurt to ask the question.

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