The following letter has been sent to all candidates running in the Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock constituency.
Rural Municipalities in Alberta are facing ever increasing challenges when it comes to maintaining transportation infrastructure. Roads, bridges, and culverts, airports, and other forms of the transportation network previously funded by provincial grant programs are now being left up to rural municipalities.
Rural municipalities manage the majority of Alberta’s road network and bridge structures, many of which are in need of upgrades or replacement after many years of service. Athabasca County has 210 bridge structures, many of which were built pre-1960 along with 2,450 km of roads which are facing pressure from increased traffic and heavier loads.
In Athabasca County the costs to repair our roads and bridges continue to increase year after year and the municipality has been forced to restrict weights and even close some structures due to lack of funding for replacement. These road networks connect communities and provide rural Albertans with access to healthcare and education, are integral to provincial tourism, and help provide the oil and gas, forestry, and agriculture industries with access to markets and the natural resources they depend on.
Lack of provincial road infrastructure funding is also putting increased pressure on Thorhild County and the realities it faces with an aging transportation infrastructure, limited finances, issues of road safety, and environmental requirements.
Despite these factors, Thorhild County has decided to replace 4 of its aging bridges in 2019. It’s just the beginning. In the next 5 years there are a further 29 bridges to replace carrying with them a total cost of $32 million in today’s dollars.
Thorhild County is being proactive and has taken steps to protect infrastructure, through road bans, road restrictions and road use agreements in order to regulate unauthorized traffic on County roads but these measures can only go so far to protect crumbling infrastructure and maintain safety for the travelling public.
The public has an expectation that transportation infrastructure will be maintained to support local economies. Although expenditures continue to increase, provincial funding has remained flat or non-existent. Thorhild County doesn’t have any other options to make up the difference. Simply put, we can’t go much longer without additional transportation funding to repair our roads and bridges.
In Westlock County the need is just as staggering with 207 bridge structures (many built in the 1950s) and 2,350 km of roads. Laid end-to-end this is the equivalent to the driving distance from Westlock to Vancouver and back again. Our municipality experienced significant decreases in tax revenues over the past five years due to the decreasing linear and M&E (machinery and equipment) property assessment.
This decreased revenue, coupled with ever-increasing costs that Westlock County can’t control, has significantly diminished our ability to invest in our rapidly deteriorating transportation infrastructure. This network of roads is the backbone for moving goods and services for the two largest industries in our province: agriculture, and oil and gas. In recognition of its importance to the economy, road infrastructure requires significantly improved levels of investment at the provincial level.
What are we asking for?
A review of the current grant funding models needs to take place. The Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program (STIP) has in the past been important to making improvements to transportation infrastructure. However, the program was cancelled for a period of 5 years and reductions were made when the program was reinstated. There also seems to be no clarity on how projects are awarded with some municipalities receiving multiple grants in a year and others being denied all applications.
Municipal revenues are not enough to meet the current need of rural municipal road networks. Long-term, predictable, funding from other levels of government is necessary to ensure the sustainability of rural Alberta road infrastructure.
As part of the 2019 provincial election, we would like to see all political parties include rural transportation infrastructure as a discussion point in their policies. We believe keeping this item as a priority for Albertans and its elected officials will result in positive change.
We look forward to seeing what solutions can be generated to solve this long-standing challenge for municipalities.
Larry Armfelt – Reeve Athabasca County
Kevin Grumetza – Reeve Thorhild County
Lou Hall – Reeve Westlock County