Thursday, August 16, 2018

Letter: A crash course in Highway 3 planning

David McIntyre - Highway engineers appear to have become so preoccupied with their vision to create a high-speed, twinned superhighway that spans Alberta they’ve embraced a solution that serves the landscape to the east, applied it to the entire equation and, in the process, ignored a mountain.

The Crowsnest River valley’s tight, rock-walled serpentine course, paired with the adjacent expanses of tortured topography, would make a high-speed proposal on this headwaters landscape problematic even if the river, a community, an existing highway, and a railway weren’t already part of the complex logistical equation. 

Today, incredibly, and absurdly, the highway-planning process on this landscape, like a runaway boulder, is crushing everything in its path. How did it acquire this false momentum?

The process gives the appearance of being more important than the planned product, more influential and substantial than the health of the populace.

The planning procedure needs to readdressed, and the people of Alberta need to be directly—not superficially—involved. Hundreds of millions of dollars—as well as health and safety issues—are hanging in the wind.

Anyone looking at the big-picture today—well, perhaps anyone other than a project-lusting engineer—can see there are physical constraints that overwhelm the available space and scream for a solution that favors human health and wellbeing, a slower pace, and safety. Not needed is a twinned, trans-community speedway that degrades and consumes the community of Crowsnest Pass and ends at its western edge, the AB/BC border. 

The winning solution needs to embrace - not overwhelm and destroy - Crowsnest Pass’s relaxed lifestyle, its wealth of wildlife, its scenic splendor, and its abundance of rich and alluring cultural resources and historic sites.

Why do unleashed highway planners attempt to pour concrete over all measures of social value other than a warp-speed vision for fast-paced travel and its complex, engineered spaghetti-way of connecting roads? Why would a thinking society allow this to happen in the headwaters of the Crowsnest River valley, where it doesn’t make sense?

And there’s this: How could - or why did? - Crowsnest Pass’s elected council roll over, play dead, and endorse the proposed plan to construct a screaming, Deerfoot Trail-like expressway through the heart and soul of an iconically picturesque community nestled within a stunningly beautiful valley sandwiched between gorgeous mountain ranges? How could this same council lend its voice to a plan to destroy the existing Frank Slide viewscape in an apparent attempt to smash the site’s 1977 designation as a Provincial Historic Resource and, with this designation, the formal protection, for posterity, of its cultural and geological features? Wow! Could this happen anywhere else in Canada?

The Frank Slide, North America’s most deadly rockslide, is this community’s most visible and widely known historical site. It’s a haunting cemetery, a sea of fractured tombstones.

Do the people of Alberta wish to destroy the historical and cultural value of this world-renowned asset in order to, perhaps, drive a little faster? Why would anyone opt to do this in order to create, at colossal expense, a slightly quicker exit route for truckers and other motorists wishing to leave Alberta?

As society works to create a better tomorrow, it’s imperative to plan for a future that serves, embraces, and gives strength to a network of vibrant communities and the people who live within them. By supporting quality-of-life issues and putting sanity and safety ahead of speed, Albertans can sustain a paradise that already exists by simply ensuring that Crowsnest Pass’s foundation for future worth is not needlessly sacrificed.

There is no value in spending hundreds of millions of dollars to transform one of Canada’s most scenery-rich communities and a revered, world-class, Crown of the Continent landscape into a high-speed exit ramp into British Columbia. This is not the way to impress—and attract—world travelers.

The Crowsnest valley, long known as Disaster Alley, remains exposed to threats of colossal proportion. At the fore is a rockslide predicted to cascade into the Crowsnest River valley from the fractured, destabilized face of Turtle Mountain. Wildfires constitute a second looming threat. Flooding, too, is a perennial concern.

Since society’s well aware of the preceding, is it not foolish to permit continued development within floodplains and highly flammable fuel-rich forests? Is it not more foolish to request development within the mapped and well-known path of a projected rockslide, a landscape scientists have told planners and community leaders to avoid due to the risk to human life?

Any heavy construction occurring in close proximity to the projected rockslide might be seen to be particularly dangerous and ill-advised due to its potential to trigger the feared event. Blasting associated with road building or nearby mining activity can be expected to elevate the danger of the forecast rock avalanche, increasing its likelihood.

Underground miners in days-of-old said this: “You’re only as safe as the stupidest man in the mine.” The saying, today, might be dragged from the dark and dangerous depths of yesterday’s mines, exposed to the light of day, and used as a foundation for selecting members of a sound, futuristic planning team.

Whatever happens on the greater Crowsnest Pass landscape, society, led by insurance companies and followed by lawyers, is sure to be watching.

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