Weaselhead group and citizens gather to discuss concerns and options
The southwest extension, which will stretch from Highway 22X to Highway 8 along the city's western edge, will see two bridges built over the Elbow River — a five-lane southbound structure and a four-lane northbound span — and through a portion of the Weaselhead Flats. Plans also call for a diversion of part of the Elbow River to accommodate the freeway.
"It's a matter of values," proclaimed Paul Finkleman, president of the Weaselhead/Glenmore Park Preservation Society. "Some things are worth fighting for and this certainly is."
Finkleman hopes the forum raises some much needed awareness.
"A lot of people don't know but they are re-routing the Elbow River by a kilometre to accommodate a small bridge, which we think is ridiculous. It won't even withstand a flood like the one in 2013. And a lot of people are going to hear that today — a lot of people don't know," he said in an interview prior to the event.
Many seemingly apprehensive local residents gathered at the forum organized by the Preservation Society to gain a better understanding of the impact the ring road will have and to discuss other options.
Among them was Sam Boisvert, who recently moved to the area.
"I'm here because I know there was talk about different options. I was actually expecting them to go with a high level crossing but I'm surprised to see that they went for the low level crossing," he said.
Boisvert feels that if the decision was based purely on financial concerns, the province should find additional funding to do it right.
The consensus among many experts that addressed the panel was that the construction of a high level bridge, like the one that carries Stoney Trail over the Bow River in the northwest, would cause less damage to drinking water and the surrounding plants and wildlife.
Lisa Dahlseide, executive director of the Preservation Society, said, "We know that the technology exists to build it better."
Dahlseide said the province can build something that is open-span where the river can freely migrate, where wildlife can freely walk though and where flooding can occur without it being restricted.
"We are a wealthy province and so I do believe that we have the resources to build the best road possible," Dahlseide said.
However, Gary Lamb, an urban construction manager at Alberta Transportation, told the crowd that cost is an issue.
"To twin the bridge along the Bow River is $100 million," Lamb said. "That bridge is 480 metres long. What we are talking about here along the span of the Elbow River is two bridges that would be over a kilometre each — $400 to $500 million."
Lamb said he will relay concerns to his colleagues, but ultimately it is up to the politicians to decide how to allocate taxpayer money.
Ross Murphy, a citizen, voiced concerns that despite the project's $5 billion budget, the province seems to be cutting corners.
"If you don't have the time or money to do it right, when are you going to have money to fix it?" Murphy asked — a question that sparked applause from the audience.
Not everyone in attendance shared the same concerns over the impact the road would have on the environment and wildlife.
One citizen, who asked not to be identified, said he doesn't want wildlife so close to the city. He raised concerns over animals being tranquilized when they get too close to civilization.
The Preservation Society said it wants to preserve the Weaselhead flats which they believe is an "absolute gem of a park" for future generations to enjoy.
"We have 5,000 kids coming through here every year learning about biodiversity with the Weaselhead group. It's going to be devastated with a freeway running right through it. You don't re-route the Elbow River — the Elbow goes where it wants to go," said Finkleman.
Shovels are expected to hit the ground for the construction of this project in mid-2016.
- By ANDREA MIHALIK