The Howse Pass shortcut to British Columbia is worth taking another look at, says an economic development coalition of central Alberta communities.
Building another route through the mountains and linking it to central Alberta has been raised on and off for decades.
Perhaps, the most recent serious look at the idea came in 2005, when an economic pre-feasibility study was done that estimated nearly $400 million in economic benefits.
Central Alberta Economic Partnership chair John Vandermeer said they would like to undertake an economic development study for the region, which would include a reassessment of the viability of the Howse Pass route, which would shave 95 kilometres off the route from central Alberta to Kamloops, B.C.
The drive from Red Deer to Kamloops by way of Calgary is about 760 kilometres. Howse Pass would turn the Kamloops drive into a shorter journey, linking Highway 11 with the Trans-Canada Highway, about 30 kilometres west of Golden, B.C.
“We need to update (the 2005 study) and see if there are other contributing factors that may better support the development of Howse Pass,” said Vandermeer, a Clearwater County councillor.
“There were quite a number of reasons why we should consider it back in 2005.”
“Of course, at this point in time, there is a lot more industrial activity in central Alberta. Also, there’s the tourist component.
“We’d just like an update and see if there is an even stronger case for moving ahead with that project.”
Vandermeer said a number of central Alberta municipal leaders are interested in the potential economic boost to central Alberta should a new mountain route be available.
Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood, a past chair of the partnership and now vice-chair, said recently, there appears to be growing interest in the prospect of building the route, which he wants to see considered as part of a broader survey of potential economic development opportunities in the region.
The idea was brought up at a recent meeting between partnership representatives and government officials, he said. The message from government was that clear support would have to be shown for the initiative and that it be a toll road.
A similar approach was taken in B.C., when the Coquihalla Highway was built between Kamloops and Hope. About $845 million — the construction cost of the highway — was collected over 22 years and then the toll booths were taken away in 2008.
“Clearly, (a toll road) would make it more feasible, given the current fiscal situation in Alberta,” Wood said.
“The more financially viable we can make the proposal, the more likely it is to get support. So, a toll road is one of the possibilities.”
Support from B.C. and Alberta, and the federal government and various regulatory approvals, would be required for anything to go ahead.
There will be opposition. Environmental groups have long opposed another highway through the wilderness. Federal permission would also be needed to run 34 kilometres of roadway through Banff National Park.
Before any studies get done, the partnership needs to find out what provincial government support for the 33-municipality organization will be.
The Central Alberta Economic Partnership received a $100,000 grant for years, which was then boosted to $200,000 under the NDP government.
How much is coming this year likely won’t be known until the Feb. 27 provincial budget.