‘Plan B’

In 2009, five years of planning and negotiating for a ring road in Southwest Calgary was voted down by the members of the Tsuu T’ina (more here). When the province walked away from further discussions, they declared the Tsuu T’ina option dead and were anxious to move on; to develop another option entirely within the city of Calgary. This would be called the ‘Plan B’.

On November 27 2009, only five months after the rejection of a Tsuu T’ina alignment, the City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly explore the 37th street SW corridor for the purposes of building an 8-lane freeway entirely within the city limits. The scope of the MoU was eventually expanded to consider alternative routes to 37th street SW, and the study was meant to conclude in the fourth quarter of 2011 with a proposed route.

Was there really no ‘Plan B’?

When the 2009 deal was initially defeated, then Mayor Dave Bronconier stated that they did not have a Plan B for the City and Province to fall back on.

Every transportation plan since 1959 planned for an extension of Sarcee Trail to become the primary north-south freeway on the west side of Calgary (essentially the ‘Plan A’). Though there have been a few alternatives proposed throughout the years, mainly involving on 37th street SW, these concepts had never been fully explored, and none have ever been approved (you can see these preliminary concepts here).

Most recently, a proposal to study the 37th street SW alignment was voted down in 2001, and in 2002 the city council Transportation Committee attempted to force the issue of a non-Tsuu T’ina road alignment by voting to prohibit the City from becoming involved in building any new roads on Tsuu T’ina property. In 2002/2003, a study was proposed to look at three alternative routes for a connector road in the area, including an extension to Sarcee Trail through the reserve, and extension to Crowchild Trail over the reservoir, and an extension to 37th street over the Weaselhead. While this might have become the first steps toward developing a modern, Calgary-made, Plan B route, the study was sidelined for various reasons before the routes were actually studied. Alternatives seemed moot once the Provincial ring road negotiations started in earnest in 2004, and further attempts to study new routes were not made until 2011.

With the rejection of the 2009 deal, and the subsequent signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, the Province began to explore a new Plan B. While the work on this plan would draw from some of the previous studies and concepts, it would essentially be an entirely new road plan.

The five Plan Bs

On January 29 2011, the Province unveiled the initial stage of the Plan B planning. At this stage, there were no detailed designs or diagrams; this was part of the route selection phase, where a corridor would be chosen before detailed designs could be considered.

The Plan B study, officially part of the ‘Calgary Southwest Ring Road Functional Planning Study’ was prepared for the province by Focus Engineering. In it, five potential routes for a southwest ring road were presented, along with an overview of the issues involved including the need for a road, future traffic patterns, design standards, location and construction techniques.

The five alternate routes all begin at the junction of Highway 8 and 101st street SW, and all end up connecting to Highway 22x, but the routes are quite different from each other. The road routes were intended to accommodate a 110km/h, limited access, 8-lane, freeway standard road. This specification was to be maintained at all points of the route, even when utilising an existing road corridor. For instance, where the road was shown to be built alongside Glenmore Trail, the specifications called for 8 new lanes in addition to the existing 9 lanes over the Glenmore Causeway, resulting in a total of 17 lanes (in this case).

Routes 1, 2, 3 and 5

These four options follow existing roads for the route of a new ring road. They all start at Glenmore Trail and 101st street SW, and head east, following Glenmore Trail over the reservoir. From here they differ:

  • Route 1 (red in the map above) continues to follow Glenmore Trail to Deerfoot Trail, where it connects with Highway 22x.
  • Route 2 (green) heads south on 14th street SW, then east on Anderson Road before connecting with Deerfoot south to Highway 22x.
  • Route 3 (yellow) also heads south on 14th street SW and east on Anderson Road, but then heads south on Macleod Trail.
  • Route 5 (black) heads south on 14th street SW, but then goes west on Anderson. From there it joins up with 37th street south of the reservoir, and continues south to Highway 22x.

In the media and amongst decision makers, there seems to be something of a consensus on these four routes presented in the 2011 Plan B study, that consensus being that they are largely unfeasible in execution, too damaging to Calgary communities, and unsuitable in the function of a ring road. The Province’s own ‘report card’ that compares the different routes actually confirms this assessment, providing ‘Least Favorable’ or ‘Less Favorable’ grades on every metric apart from ‘Potential environmental impact’ for these four routes.

There isn’t a single road corridor in the southwest of Calgary that could accommodate a road of the proposed size, so demolishing homes and expropriating private property would be necessary to build the road, regardless of the path chosen. Contained in these four options include plans that variously mean Deerfoot would need 16 lanes in places, Glenmore Trail 17 lanes, Macleod Trail 16 lanes, Anderson Road 14 lanes, and more. These new lanes were proposed to be built through some of the most built-up areas of Calgary.

In personal conversations with Alberta Transportation employees, there was speculation on their part that these other alternatives (1, 2, 3, and 5) would not seriously be considered, and had only been included because their mandate was to study multiple corridors to connect Glenmore Trail and Highway 22x. Indeed the original Memorandum of Understanding called for 37th street alone to be used for a Plan B route.

The only issue the province publicly stated they were keen to avoid in regards to the ring road was expropriating property, and their desire to keep the number of affected homes as low as possible. In August 2010, Transportation Minister Luc Ouellette said “I don’t think taking out 700 houses is acceptable,” in regards to ring road routes. Premier Stelmach reiterated this position in October 2010 by stating that he didn’t want ‘major impacts on any communities.’ By any definition, these statements would seem to preclude Routes 1, 2, 3 and 5, simply due to their massive need for land along built-up corridors. (Of these four routes, the number of residential communities that would have needed to have some property expropriated ranges between 14 and 24.)

In 2009, the Province stated that they would be willing to lower the speed of the road to 80km/h in order to reduce the impact of the road, specifically a 37th street SW route (Route 4). Mayor Bronconier stated that the reduced speed would save houses from demolition, as a lower speed would allow for smaller interchanges and turning radii.

Route 4

Route 4 also starts at Glenmore Trail and 101st street SW, following Glenmore Trail east, through Glamorgan, to 37th street SW. From here Route 4 heads south along 37th street through the community of Lakeview, over or under the Weaselhead, then continues south via the 37th street SW right-of-way beside Oakridge and Cedarbrae. From there, it would connect with the existing 37th street SW and continues south, where it connects with Highway 22x.

At the time of the release of these plans, this route was widely seen as the most likely of the five routes to be selected. It had been singled out early in the process as the only route to be considered before the scope of the study was expanded, it was the only route of the five to have even been discussed in the past as an alternative, and it appeared most favorable in the Province’s comparison of routes. (Route 5, with an widened and free-flowing 14th street SW, was similar to previous City plans in the 1990s, though not to the extent presented here).

In appearing to be the most likely of the five routes, it became the most controversial. The compromises to the road design, the impacts to the Weaselhead and the impacts communities of Glamorgan and Lakeview meant that this route was seized upon by both politicians and citizens alike, and opposition to the Plan B routes grew. (The issues surrounding the opposition to the Plan B alternatives are significant enough that they will be addressed in a future article.)

Plan B on hold

Under the prevailing opposition to the Plan B routes, most notably by Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Premier Alison Redford and Ward 11 Councillor Brian Pincott, among many others, the Tsuu T’ina took a poll of their members. On June 29 2011, the Nation voted 68.5% in favour of re-entering negotiations with the Province for a road route through their land. (Of course, the Tsuu T’ina have stated since June 2009 that they were open to further negotiations; it was the Province that decided against further talks with the Nation. Given the speed at which the Province accepted new negotiations, one can’t help but wonder about the politics involved. Whether the Province felt that it could not be perceived as ‘giving in’ by proposing new talks, thereby needing to wait for the Tsuu T’ina to restate their longstanding position in a new way, and thus allowing the Nation to ‘make the first move’).

The Province welcomed renewed talks about the ring road, and within two weeks of the Tsuu T’ina vote talks had been renewed. Premier Stelmach says that a Tsuu T’ina route would give them a wider right-of-way, greater traffic flow, would provide for a ‘safer’ road, ‘without disturbing our communities’. The Province stated that while the route and compensation from the 2009 deal would remain intact, they would rewrite portions of the agreement to address the concerns the Tsuu T’ina had with the wording, specifically in regards to agreeing to guarantee the land swap in the deal (more on the original deal here).

In the Summer of 2011, the Province stated that with the reopening of talks with the Tsuu T’ina, the Plan B study would be put on hold indefinitely, at least publicly. Plan B is currently dormant pending the outcome of negotiations with the Nation.

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