| Posted: Wednesday, Jul 18, 2012 06:00 am
The province started closing the loop on Anthony Henday Drive Monday, with the sod turning on the $1.81 billion northeast leg of the road.
Transportation Minister Ric McIver and a host of local officials kicked off construction on the last section, running from the current Henday end point at Manning Drive down to Yellowhead Trail, with a sod turning on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River.
The project also includes major upgrades of the area from the Yellowhead down to Whitemud Drive. It is scheduled to open in 2016 and includes nine interchanges, nine kilometres of new highway, 18 kilometres of highway reconstruction, eight railway crossings and two bridges over the river.
The project will allow for free-flowing traffic right around the region and significantly reduce travel times.
"When somebody is looking at investing in a region they look at a whole number of things including, how well educated the population is, but they also look at the quality of the infrastructure," said McIver. "We believe they will say that this is a good place to invest."
Lower than budgeted oil prices could impact the province's bottom line this year, but McIver said the government is absolutely committed to the Henday.
"This project is set, it is in the budget and that is that."
St. Albert mayor Nolan Crouse said the city got its big boost when the northwest leg opened last fall, bringing the road to St. Albert.
"What the Anthony Henday is doing is bringing St. Albert and the region closer, so it is probably a boost to the region and so then each municipality gets some benefit."
Riel Park Business Association president Ivan Mayer said the city reaped big rewards when the Henday opened last year and this will just be icing.
"It won't have near the impact that the other leg had, obviously, because we are in the northwest and this is the northeast, but is all part of the big picture."
Mayer has developed several warehouse and industrial buildings in Riel Park and said the demand has been staggering since the road opened last fall.
"I don't have a spot left. I could probably fill another building, another 20,000 square foot space building if I had space."
At Monday's ground-breaking, Strathcona County Mayor Linda Osinchuk said the road would be a big benefit for her community.
"Traffic corridors represent safety, but it also just ties us all together and it is a good positive step for how we are growing."
The project is being funded as a P3 (public private partnership.) The company, Capital City Link, has a contract to complete the road and maintain it for 30 years.
McIver said the P3 model has worked well for the province to date.
"For the most part things have worked well, the other three parts of the Henday are in place and we hope this is a smooth finish to the project."
He said he was confident the work would get done as promised.
"We are dealing with contractors who have a track record of doing a good job, getting things done in a timely fashion."
The P3 contract will see the province pay most of the $1.81 billion up front, covering 60 per cent of the capital cost of construction in the first five years, with the remaining 40 per cent and the costs for upkeep paid over 30 years.
Two other bidders submitted bids of $2.03 billion and $2.22 billion.
The road will have new interchanges at 153 Avenue and 130 Avenue, along with interchanges at Yellowhead Trail, Baseline Road and Wye Road. The entire road including the reconstructed sections will open at once in the fall of 2016.
The government estimates a trip from St. Albert to Sherwood Park would take about 25 minutes once the road opens.