LETHBRIDGE - Built more than 50 years ago as a four-lane crossing, the Highway 3 bridge has undergone some rehabilitative efforts, namely in 2018, to make it safe for users in the short term.
But on Friday, March 15, Transportation Minister Brian Mason, announced the province would fund a new, $100 million Highway 3 bridge, to replace the aging one that currently spans the Oldman River. The new bridge would be built in the same place as the old one. It will have six lanes- three going in each direction.
Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, Lethbridge-East MLA Maria Fitzpatrick and Mayor Chris Spearman were also on hand at Lethbridge City Hall for the late-morning announcement.
Fitzpatrick said she and Minister Phillips, along with Mayor Spearman had been actively advocating for the new crossing for years, and that the bridge had been near the end of its lifespan for some time. When asked why the announcement was made now, rather than at an earlier time, Mason said he preferred to do it prior to the provincial election.
He also indicated money was set aside for the project in the province's capital plan and there were some significant savings from other major projects.
"We were able to get very good prices on our tenders because people are a little hungrier and the bids have come in lower. And so just in the, for example, Ring Road projects in Calgary alone, we have been able to save probably a billion dollars over what was budgeted. We are reallocating some of that money to other badly needed projects and so this is one of them."
Mayor Chris Spearman is also hoping that new pedestrian and cycling pathways will be included.
"We're hoping that also in the planning that there would be...right now there is a pedestrian route, which I would say is a little bit unsafe. If we can have a modern pedestrian/bicycle access as part of that, I think that would serve the whole community.
"We would look forward to partnering with the province, to working with them to make sure that the bridge design is one that meets the needs of the citizens and all forms of travellers."
The question of when a third crossing for the city might also be considered, to which the Transportation Minister answered that it was on his radar, but not a possibility for some time.
"When a 3rd bridge is constructed, it will be a city bridge and it will be a city responsibility. We will look very seriously at providing funding in a future date for a third bridge for the city of Lethbridge...I'm very aware that there's a great desire... for an additional crossing. But priorities are about sequencing, and the priority now is to increase the capacity of the bridge on the highway. And we are certainly prepared in a second term to take a good hard look at a third bridge and see what we can do to assist the city to provide that additional crossing."
Spearman also acknowledged that a third crossing was likely about five years away still, depending on traffic volumes and the size of the city at that time. It would also mean a likely 14 per cent tax increase.
Phillips says a third crossing is something she hears about often.
"Obviously we want to proceed in a way that is responsible, that actually reflects the traffic patterns and so on. And that is why it is so important that the provincial government provide stable and predictable funding to municipalities in a way that they can predict and make these kinds of plans over the long term."
Currently, conceptual plans are in the works for the new bridge. Planning, design, acquiring rights of way, environmental permits and First Nations consultation are the next stages in the project. Construction is expected to begin sometime in 2022.
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