Crossing the Elbow River – 1956 to 1986

The release of a ‘virtual tour’ video of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road this past week has given the public a chance to view the proposed plans for this road in a way that maps have not been able to. The detail and context provided by the video has raised concerns over the impacts the road will have on southwest Calgary, including the Elbow River, Fish Creek and the Weaselhead. The nature, size and proximity of the cut-and-fill river crossing, combined with a realignment of the rivers, appear to be at the heart of these concerns.

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(Source: Alberta Transportation)

The crossing of the Elbow river is arguably the most important link in the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project. This new crossing of the Elbow river in southwest Calgary, the first since the Glenmore causeway opened in 1963, is projected as being the single most utilized portion of the new road. Establishing this crossing has seen numerous proposals over the years; from a low-level bridge in the 1950s to a dam in the 1980s (creating a new reservoir upstream from the Weaselhead) to a consideration of a high-level bridge, and even talk of a tunnel, in the 2000s. A new crossing of the Elbow river is an idea that has undergone many revisions and alternatives in the decades since it was first proposed.

The first part of this story looks at the early proposals and the history of the crossing of the Elbow River, from the first proposal in 1956 to the project’s (temporary) cancellation in 1986. Part two, which looks at the modern river crossing plans and alternatives from 2000 to 2014, will follow.

Early plans: models and maps

In 1955 the Province of Alberta made public its desire to establish a bypass highway in Calgary’s southwest, and by the following year, the City had drafted initial plans for this road. Around the same time the City was also developing plans for the Glenmore Reservoir parks, and these two proposals would converge in the form of the first publicly released concept for the Southwest Ring Road, then known as the West Bypass, and its crossing of the Elbow river.

The ambitious plan for the proposed Glenmore Parks, containing an aquarium, a solarium, botanical gardens, an ‘Indian Village’ and more, was estimated to cost $3 million and would take upwards of 25 years to implement. When the City’s planning department was seeking approval from both the public and the City Council for the proposed park system surrounding the Glenmore Reservoir, they created a model of their proposed ideas. Along the western portion of the model lay the West Bypass, and its crossing of the Elbow river was presented to the public for the first time.

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(Glenbow Archives NA-5600-8138a. Click for an enlargement of the Elbow River crossing)

The crossing, depicted as a 4-lane low-level bridge of about 180m in length with some amount of cut-and-fill on the north bank of the valley, was only conceptual at this stage. Detailed work on the entire development had yet to be carried out at the time of the model’s creation, and no engineering had gone into the designs at this point. (The road is shown along the bottom of the photograph above). Continue reading “Crossing the Elbow River – 1956 to 1986”

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90th Avenue and the Southwest Ring Road

First appearing on plans together nearly 60 years ago, and shown as connected in every major road plan since, 90th avenue SW and the Southwest Calgary Ring Road have a long and inseparable history. The connection of these two roads together, initially planned out of convenience, and later out of necessity, continues to play a significant role in the history of the ring road. Calls to keep 90th avenue from being connected to the ring road have been heard in recent years, and it is important to understand the history of this road, and why the connection of 90th avenue is seen as an indispensable part of the ring road plan.

The Origins of 90th Avenue SW

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90th avenue is an arterial road in Calgary’s southwest, south of the Glenmore Reservoir, that has existed in some form or another since the early days of the City. Early settlers in the region traveled its path to access their land, and by the early 20th century, a dirt road had been created which served a small number of homesteads in the area. This arrangement, pictured above in 1953, went largely unchanged for many years. When the foreseeable encroachment of an expanding City of Calgary finally necessitated it, bigger plans for the road were initiated.

Forward Planning and a Growing City

In the early to mid 1950s the City had begun to more fully embrace a civic planning program; one that was more forward looking than had been undertaken in decades. The City was creating plans for areas that were then rural, but would one day be developed as part of a rapidly-growing City. The earliest modern plan for 90th avenue can be traced back to 1953 when the City created it’s earliest internal Ring Road plan. 90th avenue SW between Macleod Trail and 37th street SW was at that time an integral part of the Ring Road, and formed the southern portion of the City’s first complete Southwest Calgary Ring Road route.

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(Source: Untitled Map. December 1953. City of Calgary Corporate Records, Archives. Board of Commissioners S. IV box 189 F. 39.)

This configuration did not last long, and soon the main Ring Road route continued south, beyond 90th avenue SW. By 1956 a masterplan for the development of parks around the Glenmore Reservoir was developed by the City (shown below), and included a modified 90th avenue SW proposal. These plans mark the first time that plans for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road and 90th avenue SW were shown to the public.

Glennore_1956Then called ‘South Glenmore Drive’, 90th avenue was depicted much as we know it today, running from 14th street SW to 37th street SW, where it connected directly to the ring road. This basic layout was retained in Calgary’s first approved transportation plan, 1959’s Calgary Metropolitan Transportation Plan (shown below as 92nd avenue).

1959_90th Continue reading “90th Avenue and the Southwest Ring Road”

From No to Maybe: The turning point for the SW Ring Road, part 2

This article follows on from the previous article, From No to Maybe: The turning point for the SW Ring Road, part 1.

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By the close of the 1970s, the Tsuut’ina Nation and the City of Calgary seemed to be at an impasse regarding the Southwest Calgary Ring Road (or the Sarcee Trail Extension, as it was then known). Though generally indicating resistance to the idea of allowing a road through the reserve, the Nation nonetheless had been willing to continue to engage with the City in discussions, noting that any chance of success hinged on the Nation deriving certain benefits from the road. The City meanwhile had seemingly made it clear that they were not prepared to entertain certain requests of the Nation, particularly access from the ring road to potential developments on the reserve, and the extension of City utilities to those developments.

1984_reserve_view

At the same time, and in a seemingly contradictory move, the City had begun to limit itself from building the road along a route through the Weaselhead area within the City limits, thus ensuring that it needed to acquire land from the Nation in order to build the road. Though conditions to this point had not yet been right for progress, both parties seemed to be heading towards a middle ground, and information and cooperation were the last hurdles to clear before the story of the ring road could move forward. Continue reading “From No to Maybe: The turning point for the SW Ring Road, part 2”

From No to Maybe: The turning point for the SW Ring Road, part 1

The approval of a ring road agreement between the Tsuut’ina and the Province of Alberta in October of 2013 has opened the door for the long-planned Southwest Calgary Ring Road to be built through what is currently the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. By any measure, the vote to accept the deal was overwhelmingly in favour, but the idea of selling reserve land for the freeway has not always been a popular one amongst Nation members.

With a deal now agreed to locate the ring road through the reserve, a once formidable divide between the idea of retaining reserve land and selling it has seemingly been bridged, but what changed? Why has that idea of selling the land, once thoroughly rejected by Tsuut’ina members and leadership, now been embraced?

Ring Road Planning

Although Calgary had planned for a ring road from as early as the mid-1950s, the early designs would have seen limited, or at times non-existent, incursions into the Tsuut’ina reserve. Early designs were proposed to be largely located within Calgary’s city limits, and while there have been sporadic discussions between the City and the Nation regarding the acquisition of land for a road, in the early days these talks would appear to be perfunctory.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that more considered thought was given to planning the Southwest Calgary Ring Road through the Tsuut’ina reserve in a substantial way.

1975_ROUTE_F Continue reading “From No to Maybe: The turning point for the SW Ring Road, part 1”

The History of Ring Road Negotiations

On the day of a vote by the Tsuu T’ina Nation on a potential deal to sell and trade land for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, it’s worth looking at the history of the negotiations for this road.

Many commentators have made statements to the effect that the City of Calgary or the Province of Alberta have been negotiating with the Nation over land for the ring road for upwards of 60 years. While it’s true that designs for the road, even from the very beginning, have shown the road on reserve land, it cannot be said that true negotiations have been underway since that time. Though conversations have certainly taken place for decades, the current negotiations can be traced back to about 2004, with modern negotiations starting in 1998, and prior to 1984 the Nation were largely opposed to the entire notion of running a major freeway through their land.

1956
The earliest ring road plans are revealed to the public. Mayor Don Mackay states that a small portion of the road, particularly the interchange with what would become 90th avenue, would cross the Tsuu T’ina reserve. Mayor Mackay said “Think of the possibilities for a great tourist attraction this would provide for the Indians… They could line the road, as it crosses their territory, with teepees and provide a wonderful sight.”

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Soon the proposed road would be altered from these early plans, and the officially approved route in 1959 was not noted to require land from the reserve. No formal discussions are known to have taken place with the Nation regarding the purchase of land at this time.

(For more on the early road, click here) Continue reading “The History of Ring Road Negotiations”

1977 Sarcee Trail South Route Location Study

Though the planning for a Southwest Ring Road had been started in the early-to-mid 1950s, it remained little more than a line on a map for the next few decades. It took the pressures of growth, and the establishment of a new Provincial park, for the City to move the project from long-range thinking to a more detailed phase of planning. By the mid 1970s the planning for the Sarcee Trail extension, as it was then known, had become a priority to the City, even if the need for the road was recognised to still be decades away.

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The study would look at routes that traveled from Glenmore Trail to Highway 22x, though I will focus on the portion that crosses the Elbow River, from Glenmore Trail to Anderson Road. For more on the crossing of the Fish Creek, see here. Continue reading “1977 Sarcee Trail South Route Location Study”

37th street SW, from Anderson Road to Highway 22x

This is the third post regarding the role of 37th street in the ring road story. Part 1, Glenmore trail to 66th avenue SW, and Part 2, 90th avenue SW to Anderson road can be found here. This third part covers the 37th street corridor between Anderson road and Highway 22x.

The Early Road

37th_1948-2010

Located at the dividing line between the Tsuu T’ina Nation and the City of Calgary, it is natural that a road would emerge along the 37th street SW corridor. Marking the edge of Township 23, Range 1 West of the 5th Meridian, a road right-of-way had been established with the creation of the township land system for Alberta, though it wasn’t until later that a road was permanently established. Continue reading “37th street SW, from Anderson Road to Highway 22x”