The Southwest Ring Road: 60 Years in the Making

Today, the City of Calgary’s Transportation Department will present to the Transportation and Transit Committee on issues related to the yet-to-be-constructed West and Southwest Ring Road projects. As it happens, today also marks an important date in the history of the ring road. It was exactly 60 years ago that the Province of Alberta first announced plans for what would eventually become the Southwest Calgary Ring Road.

On Friday, November 18, 1955, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce held a meeting at the Palliser Hotel in downtown Calgary. Speaking at the event was Social Credit MLA and Minister of Highways Gordon Taylor, who provided a summary of the Province’s 12-month plan for highway projects in the Calgary area.


(The Hon. Gordon Taylor, Minister of Highways (Centre) shown here opening the Mewata Bridge, Calgary, 1954. Glenbow Archives NA-5600-7844a)

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Federal Funding Announcement

On Thursday July 30 2015, Federal Minister for National Defence and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, along with Alberta Minister for Transportation Brian Mason, announced Federal funding for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project.

At the announcement, also attended by Tsuut’ina Chief Roy Whitney-Onespot, Kenney detailed a commitment of $582.9 million, which represents one quarter of the estimated $2.8 billion cost for construction of this leg of the road. The funds are being earmarked from the National Infrastructure Component of the New Building Canada Fund, which ‘provides funding for projects of national significance’1.


(Map showing the newly revised route of the Southwest ring road; from Macleod trail in the south, to west of 101st street SW in the west.)

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Highway 8 and the Ring Road

This month, the Government of Alberta revised the plans for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road Project by extending the western portion of the road into the Highway 8 corridor. This section of the ring road, what is currently Highway 8 from Sarcee trail to just west of the Calgary city limits and highlighted below in blue, had until recently been a part of the West Calgary Ring Road Project. This change shifts approximately 5km of roadway to the Southwest ring road, adds one additional interchange (69th street SW) and a new crossing over the Elbow River to the project, while removing the same from the West leg of the road.1

July_2015_update_new(The previous Southwest ring road route in green, with the addition of a portion of Highway 8 in blue, making up the most recent Southwest ring road alignment.2)

This section of Highway 8, between Sarcee trail and 101st street, has played an important role in the history of the ring road, not only recently, but for many years before.

South Morley Trail, Springbank Trail, Richmond Road and Highway 8

The modern Highway 8 partially follows the route of one of the oldest roads on Calgary’s west side. Richmond road, first known as South Morley Trail, was a key trail west of the city in the 19th century, and originally connected Calgary to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation Reserve via Springbank.3

1894_Richmond_Road(The Richmond road corridor highlighted in pink, 1894.3)
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The Origins of the Southwest Ring Road

The City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta variously point to planning and studies from 1959 or the 1970s as the origin of the Southwest Ring Road.1 While these studies mark important milestones in the history of this road, particularly around planning for the current iteration, the truth is that the concept is a much older one than that.


(Township plan of Bowness, Mongomery, and what would eventually become west Calgary, 1953)

Though early efforts to plan for roads that encircled Calgary’s downtown area were undertaken, including some dating back to 1914, these were not acted upon in their time. It wasn’t until a post-war explosion of vehicle ownership and population growth in Calgary had occurred that the issue of bypass roads would again be brought to the fore.

The 11-year period between 1952 and 1963 constitute the practical origin of Calgary’s bypass road system, and would see incredible effort and progress on this issue: from outright rejection, to intensive planning, and finally to construction of key portions of Calgary’s first southwest bypass route.

Early Bypass Proposal

In early 1953, Calgary M.L.A. Fred Colborne wrote a memorandum on the benefits of building a bypass road between the Old Banff Coach Road (now Bow Trail) and the Shouldice bridge in Bowness. This memorandum was sent to the Minister of Highways Gordon Taylor in an effort to advocate for such a road; the first rural bypass road envisioned for the west side of Calgary.

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Budget 2015 and the Ring Road

Yesterday the Alberta government announced details of the proposed budget for 2015, which includes information about the two remaining portions of the Calgary Ring Road. As a cost-cutting measure, the West Calgary Ring Road is being delayed by four years, and construction is now slated to begin in 2020/2021. Expected completion of this leg, and ultimately the entire ring road, will not occur until 2024/2025, and the measure is expected to defer a reported $1.5 billion from the current budget time-frame. W&SW_Ring_Road The Southwest Calgary Ring Road, the portion that runs through the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve, remains unaffected. Work will begin on this leg of the road once the Tsuut’ina land transfer has been approved and once a contract has been tendered and awarded, with construction expected to begin next year. The agreement signed between the Nation and the Province in 2013 commits the Province to open the Southwest portion of the road within 7 years of the land transfer, and the opening is estimated to occur in 2020. The 2015 budget allocates $2.9 billion over the next 5 years towards the construction of Alberta’s ring roads. This figure includes funds needed to complete Edmonton’s Anthony Henday Drive as well as beginning work on the Southwest Calgary Ring Road (interestingly referred to as ‘Southwest Stoney Trail’ in the Province’s 5-year Capital Plan despite a promised name change as the road crosses through former Tsuut’ina reserve lands).

Utility relocation open house

Today, February 24 2015, the Government of Alberta is hosting its latest ring road public information session. The focus will be on the relocation of utilities in preparation of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project.

In addition to Alberta Transportation and the City of Calgary (who will be presenting the City’s proposed ring road connections and the 37th street SW storm trunk relocation) there will be representatives from AltaLink, ENMAX, ATCO and the Alberta Utilities Commission who will be available to answer questions.

Tuesday, February 24 2015
4 – 8 p.m.
Glamorgan Community Association, 4207 41 ave SW
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Crossing the Elbow River – 1990 to 1995

This article is the second in a series looking at the history of the crossing of the Elbow river near the Weaselhead. Part 1: 1956 to 1986 can be found here, and parts 3 and 4 will follow.

In the 1970s and 1980s, planning for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, also known as the Sarcee Trail south extension, was characterized by practical considerations such as route location, land acquisition and functional planning. The period of the 1990s by contrast would be marked by something of a step-back from applied planning, and would include a serious re-examining of priorities.

The continued dominance of the automobile and the crossing of Calgary’s rivers by a network of freeways has often been seen as inevitable. This view, however, would be challenged by a renewed expression of concern over the impacts this situation would have on parks, communities and natural areas.

A New Transportation Bylaw for Calgary

In May of 1990 the City of Calgary released a preliminary look at a proposed bylaw that sought to affirm the city’s future transportation needs. In addition to public transit, bylaw 29M90 also detailed Calgary’s existing road network and plans for future expressways and freeways throughout the city. The plan was composed largely of elements from previous planning efforts, and included a map that showed proposed roads that had long been a part of City plans, including some that dated back to the early 1950s. The bylaw also contained a number of previously proposed, but as-yet unbuilt river crossings, including the southern extension of Sarcee Trail across the Elbow river. It is these crossings that would spark Calgary’s largest public consultation efforts undertaken to that point[1].


(Source: Calgary bylaw 29M90. City of Calgary, 1990)

The bylaw included the following new river crossings (also shown above):
1. Stoney Trail NW over the Bow river
2. Sarcee Trail north extension over the Bow river
3. Shaganappi Trail south extension over the Bow river
4. South Downtown Bypass over the Elbow river
5. 50th Avenue South over the Elbow river
6. Sarcee Trail south extension over the Elbow river

Public reaction to the proposed bylaw was swift and largely unfavourable, with citizen groups particularly denouncing the negative impact that new river crossings would have on parkland, river valleys, natural areas and local communities[2]. Within a month of the bylaw’s unveiling, several hundred citizens had attended a City Council meeting on the topic, and many more contacted Aldermen, signed petitions and formed action groups to oppose the plan and to call for the process to be opened up to public consultation.

Although the bylaw was approved by Council in July 1990, the response from the public spurred the City to begin a multi-year, multi-million dollar consultation and review of the road network and future transportation needs the very next year. This process was called the GoPlan.


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