Before the May 2023 provincial election, the Government of Alberta put up signs announcing the paving of Hwy. 88. However, as of September 18, 2023, this did not appear to exist on any lists of paving projects.
On August 17, the province announced a $335 million budget for paving and road work in 2023-24. Forty-two projects are listed, but Hwy. 88 isn’t one of them.
A follow-up list from Alberta Transport and Economic Corridors also did not mention paving Hwy. 88, unless it was included in “thin life overlays,” which are mentioned for “various highways.”
Design work for one section of Hwy. 88 is included in a Government of Alberta document called ‘2023 Provincial Construction Programs,’ which contains the disclaimer that the document is subject to change.
As of Sept. 18, regarding Hwy. 88 in the Lesser Slave Lake area, the document says money was allocated for the design phase of 14 km of repaving between 10 km north of the Town of Slave Lake and 4 km south of Hwy. 754.
Hwy. 88 starts at Slave Lake and ends at Hwy. 58 west of High Level. The document also mentions construction and design work on the northern part of the highway around Fort Vermilion. This was construction of two bridges and designing another bridge.
Hwy. 754 has design funding for repaving three sections and in fact an overlay project was happening there last week, according to reports. One was from the Town of Slave Lake, which advised drivers to expect 30-minute delays. The project is expected to be finished by the end of October.
In its Aug. 17 announcement, the government put the size of the transportation infrastructure maintenance challenge in perspective:
“Alberta has a vast provincial highway network that includes more than 31,400 kilometres of highways (equivalent to almost 64,000 lane kilometres). Almost 28,000 kilometres are paved roads, and almost 2,800 four-lane or six-lane divided highways.
“This year, there are 42 paving projects across of the province, including eight in (the) Central Region, nine in North Central/Fort McMurray Regions, 14 projects in Peace Region, and 11 overlay/paving projects in Southern Region.”
A portion of Hwy. 2 from around Mitsue and west of Slave Lake to the border of Big Lakes County was resurfaced in 2021 and 2022.
It is already in need of repairs. In June 2023, a long-time Wagner resident reached out to The Leader, suggesting we investigate what type of overlay was used and why.
The Leader reached out to someone in the Ministry of Transportation and Economic Corridors, submitted questions, but never received answers.
Ron Glen, CEO of the Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association (AHRCA), asked about overlay types, says, “It depends. Generally, when the highway is built and developed, what’s underneath is the most important part.”
The constant maintenance of crack filling is very important, he adds. Without it, water will get in and the cracks will expand.
Reconstruction of a road is much more expensive than timely repairs, says Glen.
But at some point, rebuilding has to be done, says Glen, “because it (asphalt) is a chemical, and it breaks down.”
The asphalt contracts when it freezes, the earth moves under it, and heat can cause it to break down faster especially at intersections.
With climate change, road deterioration “will likely be faster,” says Glen. “Particularly, in urban areas. In the summer time, that’s when you see the rutting.”
The ARHCA is concerned about the current road maintenance system. It has a website, fixourroads.com, which outlines what it calls the “chronic under-investment in Alberta’s road network reduces our quality of life and limits our economic growth.”
From a road-builder standpoint, one of the big concerns is funding, says Glen. The budget for roads was cut back a few years ago and hasn’t returned to the pre-2015 level. Also, he says, the government is off-loading some of the risk involved with road building onto the contractors, which means they have to bid higher. The current system also has large fluctuation, year-to-year, on how much is being spent on roads.
Referring to the current budget system, Glen says, “we can’t rely on it. We can’t keep our people employed.”
ARHCA suggests predictable budgets and establishing an Alberta highway trust as the way to go. Glen adds, “they need to have a certain amount of money and need to declare publicly which projects (are happening, and) less political changes of the construction program … We need advance notice of the tender plan.”