Thursday, June 14, 2012

Open Letter to Mike Allen, MLA Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo 63 is the most direct and important land link between Fort McMurray and Edmonton Alberta, a five hour trip, if you stick to the speed limit. Many don't, and compound the problem by passing dangerously on the two-lane, undivided highway. On Friday, April 27, someone was in a hurry and pulled out to pass a double-long semi-trailer truck during a blizzard. He couldn't see the other vehicle headed straight for him. I've put up a picture of the resulting inferno below. Among the victims was a local pastor, his wife, baby, and their pregnant friend.

The loss of seven lives in one day galvanized public opinion on the need to twin the most isolated stretch of Hwy 63 between Fort McMurray and Atamore—a promise the provincial government made in early 2006, but has only completed 16 of the 240 kilometers by 2012.

On May 22, Primier Allison Redford named local MLA Mike Allen a special adviser to the transportation minister on the issue of Hwy 63. Mike Allen is seeking public comment on solutions to the problems on Hwy 63 through his Facebook page, which is where I wrote him this letter.

In my humble opinion, the solutions are clear: Accelerated twinning and enhanced policing. Both require funding and funding on a scale disproportionate to most other similar cities in Alberta (e.g. Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat) due to the remoteness of Fort McMurray. In order for funding to happen on that scale there needs to be a shift in the mindset with which our province regards to Fort McMurray.

Fort McMurray needs to be conceived of less as an internal colony and more as an integral part of the provincial community. If you're running a colony, you only invest those resources necessary to extract greater resources. In this case, a twinned Hwy 63 won't increase oil production enough relative to the cost of construction, and therefore it is not considered worthwhile.

However, if you're running a community that's an integral part of the provincial community, you invest in twinned highways, because highways provide vital transportation links for two-way commerce and for citizens to interact across the province. The investment may not even pay financial returns, but you do it because it keeps people safe as they travel back and forth. And travel is necessary for there to be a community.

Having lived in Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray, it's clear to me which city is considered part of the community and which city is considered a colony. As Fort McMurray's voice in government on the issues surrounding Hwy 63, I expect you to make that difference clear, and demand that this city, which contributes so much to our province, be fully included in the provincial community, even if it proves costly.

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