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Upgrades on Highway 881 to improve safety, travel

PHOTO. Alberta's Minister of Transportation, Ric McIver (centre) announced $50-million in improvements for Hwy. 881 between Lac La Biche and Anzac over the next four years. The improvements include passing lanes, a rest or staging area, and modifications to intersections and turnouts along the route. MYMCMURRAY/Phil Wood

Much needed improvements to Wood Buffalo highways will mean a safer commute for motorists.

The government of Alberta announced a four-year, $50-million project to improve sections of Hwy. 881 between Lac La Biche and Anzac.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver made the announcement at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre on March 10, 2020.

“We feel strongly that the future of Alberta is in this region, and we want the whole world to know that we’re open for business.”

Construction would include 14 passing lanes, a rest area, and improvements to intersections and roadside turnouts.

McIver said the improvements are part of the Kenney government’s ‘Blueprint for Jobs’ plan for job creation through targeted investments in key infrastructure.

“Highway 881 is an important route for heavy trucks, equipment and passenger vehicles moving north into Alberta’s oilsands. Upgrading this highway will make travel easier for drivers on this route by building passing lanes to get around the heavy and super-heavy equipment heading to our oilsands regions.”

The improvements would amount to 37 kilometres in total upgrades.

Residents from rural communities such as Anzac also dropped by the Discovery Centre for the announcement.

One resident asked McIver about future plans for the road as well as the proposed East Clearwater Highway.

“Passing lanes [are] a step towards eventual twinning. We’ll try to wherever possible design the passing lanes, so if the twinning comes down the road that the infrastructure we’re building now will be part of a future twinning, when and if that occurs.”

McIver also added the province regularly hears questions from its MLAs, the Municipality, and industry about the East Clearwater Highway.

He encourages residents to continue showing interest in the proposed route as Alberta reviews its capital plan.

Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Laila Goodridge said the upgrade will improve economic viability and quality of life for its residents.

“Highway 881 is an important transportation route within our region. This project will not only improve the safety of all those who travel along this route, it will expand economic opportunities for the communities and projects along this highway.”

Currently, Hwy. 881 does not have any passing lanes.

Until 2006, the highway was a two-lane gravel road with narrow shoulders.

Debbie Hammond, Executive Director of the Coalition for Safer Alberta Roads, also said the modifications would benefit the region.

“We are very pleased to hear about the commitment this government is making to improve the infrastructure on our highways. Highway 881 is a lifeline for many communities in the region and it is where a large number of our members’ operations are located.”

The plan will create 145 construction jobs and another 100 indirect jobs.

Mayor Don Scott called the announcement positive news for Wood Buffalo.

“We thank Minister McIver and the Alberta government for this key investment in transportation infrastructure that will benefit our communities, enhance public safety and support economic growth for industry, workers, and all of us. Premier Kenney, Minister McIver and the Alberta government understand the importance of our region to the rest of Alberta and this funding announcement demonstrates their commitment to our residents and our communities.”

Currently in its design phase, construction on Hwy. 881 should begin in 2022.