“Driving on Highway 63 is not fun,” said Nicole Auser, an organizer of the Twin 63 Now movement and a Fort McMurray native. “I’ve been stuck in a line-up of vehicles a few kilometers long.”
But the good news for Auser, and all other drivers who find themselves on Highway 63, is that construction to twin the highway and make the drive faster, safer and less frustrating is now underway.
Construction on a stretch of 36 km north of Wandering River has now started back up again and is expected to finish by fall 2013.
Alberta’s Ministry of Transportation also expects that 50 percent of the twinning on Highway 63 will be completed within the next three years.
“It’s my hope that they will accelerate that timeline,” Auser said.
Since plans to twin the highway were announced in 2006, a stretch of 16 km south and a stretch of 17 km north of Fort McMurray have been twinned.
But Auser thinks the government could have done more to prevent backlog on the highway by twinning it sooner.
“The provincial government approved so many oil sands projects that they could have easily foreseen the population and traffic explosion in the region. I believe they should have invested in the twinning of the highway much earlier than they did,” Auser said. “And of course they should have also made decent progress instead of just 33 km in six years.”
Heather Kaszuba, a spokesperson for Alberta Transportation, said that much of the initial work of twinning Highway 63 has already been done.
But Kaszuba also said that the progress of twinning the highway met some of nature’s roadblocks.
“We’ve had some setbacks with muskeg, boreal forest and pipeline crossings,” Kaszuba said.
Pressure to complete the twinning of the highway increased after the fatal head-on crash on April 27 that killed seven people and sent another two to the hospital.
An online petition to twin the highway currently has over 21,000 signatures.
Auser believes that twinning the highway will decrease the number of collisions and deaths on the highway, an opinion she shares with many.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer. Once the north and southbound lanes are separated and the risk of a head-on collision is greatly reduced, the number of fatalities is going to drop significantly,” Auser said.
A 2003 Transport Canada report states that by twinning a highway, the number of collisions can be reduced by as much as 60 percent.