The recent announcement of the Alberta Government’s three-year capital plan has sparked concerns among members of council for the Town of Bonnyville and the City of Cold Lake due to the absence of funding set aside for improvements to Highway 28. Chantel Downes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The capital plan has left local leaders and stakeholders disappointed, raising questions about the government’s commitment to addressing infrastructure needs of the region. 

During the City of Cold Lake corporate priorities committee meeting on March 19, council members discussed the absence of funding for Highway 28 in the 2024 provincial budget.  

The discussion began with a letter from Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA Scott Cyr, commending the Honourable Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors, for his advocacy and dedication to the welfare and future of Highway 28. The letter also acknowledged a media release from the City of Cold Lake, dated March 5, which raised concerns regarding Highway 28. Cyr’s letter emphasized that it would be uncommon, if not unprecedented, for capital dollars to be allocated to a project before preliminary work is completed. 

Despite these acknowledgements, the letter remained silent on the lack of funding for essential community infrastructure, including schools, which are vital for supporting families and workers in the Cold Lake oilsands. The funding gap was a point of contention as council members stressed the need to prepare Cold Lake for both its natural growth and the anticipated increase in growth due to federal investments at 4 Wing and the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range. 

The heart of the discussion revolved around the letter’s request for a meeting with the minister and stakeholders along Highway 28, including Cold Lake.  

Mayor Craig Copeland expressed optimism about the potential for a meeting, stating, “I think that’s great, but I just think there’s frustration about Highway 28 not being in [the budget]. Once again, hopefully with the price of oil rising like it is, we can have a readjustment and find some money.” 

City of Cold Lake Coun. Vicky Lefebvre echoed the mayor’s sentiments, emphasizing the necessity of advocating for Highway 28 and suggesting a proactive approach by writing a letter to the Treasury Board. 

“We’re not the only ones who are advocating for Highway 28. It is a necessity. So, whatever it takes, start with a letter.” 

Coun. Ryan Bailey drew attention to the discrepancy between the acknowledgement of Highway 28’s importance and the lack of tangible action. He highlighted the deteriorating condition of the highway, stating, “I’ve ridden that highway, it’s now like driving on a cheese grater.” 

He added, “If we just use the words that were in the letter written by MLA Scott Cyr, he states about Highway 28, this highway serves as a vital artery for the Cold Lake oil sands, 4 Wing – one of Canada’s largest air bases and its largest bombing range – as well as the province’s essential forestry and agriculture industries. But then he throws it all away by saying, ‘however, I firmly believe that under your leadership, Minister, the highway has received the attention and commitment it deserves.’ I think that if the government asked some people around the area of Highway 28, there’d be a lot of people who respectfully disagree that the highway has gotten the attention and commitment it deserves.” 

Coun. Bill Parker delved into the numbers, pointing out the stark difference in funding allocation between major cities and the northeastern region, emphasizing the feeling of being forgotten. 

“I think we are forgotten, maybe we should put tourism out on Highway 28, local fishing holes along all the potholes that are along the highway, and maybe we can generate some tournaments that way.” 

The discussion concluded with an agreement to draft a letter to the Treasury Board, requesting a reconsideration of Highway 28 as a priority for funding. 

Town of Bonnyville speaks out 

In a recent statement from the Town of Bonnyville, officials expressed profound disappointment over the lack of action on Highway 28, stating, “The omission of funding for Highway 28 improvements in the capital plan is deeply disappointing and raises serious questions about the government’s commitment to addressing the infrastructure needs of our region.”  

The release emphasized that with the population and economic activity in Bonnyville and northeast Alberta continuing to grow, neglecting essential transportation infrastructure poses significant risks to public safety, hampers economic development, and undermines the overall well-being of communities. 

The statement further notes, “Local leaders and stakeholders have voiced their frustration and disappointment over the lack of funding for Highway 28 improvements, emphasizing the urgent need for action to address longstanding infrastructure challenges.”  

Municipal leaders in the region, including those from the Town of Bonnyville and City of Cold Lake, are calling on the Alberta government to reassess its capital allocation priorities and prioritize investments in critical infrastructure projects like Highway 28.

By Chantel Downes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 25, 2024 at 15:38

This item reprinted with permission from   Lakeland This Week   Bonnyville, Alberta

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