Business group fears closure of Villeneuve Road
Future alignment of road uncertain as development gains momentum
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014 06:00 am
The local chamber of commerce is concerned that potential changes to Villeneuve Road will compromise access to the city for medevac services and tamper with St. Albert’s economic growth.
The city has plans to close or realign Villeneuve Road to accommodate a development moving in to its north.
The chamber is strongly opposed to these plans, as the road is a main thoroughfare for medevac services and other traffic from Villeneuve airport, said president and CEO Lynda Moffat.
“If there’s any other way that we can reconfigure that land and keep the road open and make St. Albert open for all the potential economic benefits that will come then I think that would be a much smarter move on part of the city,” she said.
Based on information posted on the city’s website, the city’s transportation master plan assumes that, in 25 years, development activity will have extended into the area north of Villeneuve Road, “triggering a need for more extensive upgrades to St. Albert’s arterial roadway network.”
“The recommended road network to accommodate traffic for future expansion includes the twinning of a realignment of Villeneuve Road from Hogan Road to the northeast city limit at St. Albert Trail,” the site says. “This would create a new east-west arterial road named Fowler Way.”
The plan recommends that Villeneuve Road be closed between Ray Gibbon Drive and Hogan Road. Another option is to close the road west of Dennison Drive, or to downgrade Villeneuve Road from an arterial road to a collector road between Dennison and St. Albert Trail.
This would divert the bulk of traffic to a new road – called Fowler Way – angling through the development.
Villeneuve Airport has become an alternative medevac landing site thanks to the quick access that Villeneuve Road provides to the Sturgeon Community Hospital, said Moffat.
That has also allowed the airport to get a runway extension and an upgraded landing system, which makes St. Albert an attractive destination for new businesses, she said.
With the potential realignment to Fowler Way, it may take longer for emergency vehicles to get to the hospital, she said. She fears that airport authorities may take away the designation entirely then, she said.
“That direct distance between the airport and the hospital is something that’s very, very attractive to them when they have to be landing emergency lands here,” she said. “We did get that designation so why in the world would we do anything to jeopardize that.”
No changes just yet
At this time, it’s still difficult to say what will happen to the road, said city manager Patrick Draper.
The city is working with land developers in the area (such as Melcor) on what a new area structure plan will look like, he said. One reason to close the road is to address public concerns about noise and traffic speed, he said.
But there are also considerations about creating a road network in the lands north of the road that fit in with the rest of city, he said. Those lands, including Villeneuve Road, were previously annexed from Sturgeon County, which has a grid-like road network.
“St. Albert has arterial roads like Giroux or McKenney that are curved and that’s part of the design of the community,” he said. “In meeting the St. Albert style and designs there is an interest to have one of those curved arterial roads.”
Draper added that the build-out of Ray Gibbon Drive will have an impact on Villeneuve Road. At some point, that road will become a six-lane highway connecting to Highway 2 north of the city, he said.
The city is now reconfiguring its transportation master plan, scheduled to go before city council in October 2015. Draper said the plan will help with outlining future realignments and road configurations, he said.
He did acknowledge that concerns have been raised about a potential closure of Villeneuve Road affecting access from the airport.
Draper said he had one conversation with hospital officials well over a year ago. At that point it didn’t seem that there was extensive use of Villeneuve Road. That may have changed since the province made additional investments in the airport and medevac services going there, he said.
“If it’s a heavily-travelled corridor for ambulances obviously that is a different consideration than if it’s rarely if ever used,” he said. “We don’t have that information at this point.”
Potential third option in the works
Council is now anticipating information coming from Melcor regarding its area structure plan, said Mayor Nolan Crouse. That should be available in six to eight weeks.
Depending on what the company proposes, Crouse also has a third option that should solve the problem, he said. But it’s too early to talk about that now, he said.
“I want to see what they are proposing first before I introduce anything,” he said, adding that he heard about the chamber’s concerns but had not been contacted by airport officials about potential changes to the road.
“We are not blocking off the ability to get to the hospital. That’s not the proposal at all,” he said.
A spokesperson with the Edmonton International Airport said officials there have also not had “a good, solid briefing” on potential changes to Villeneuve Road or how it might affect access to the airport.
Airport authorities have now requested more information on that, said Heather Hamilton, director of marketing and communications.
“We would have an interest in it because we would want to make sure that whatever plans are made aren’t going to disrupt the potential for medevac services,” she said. “But not knowing what’s on the table, it’s hard for us to have a view.”