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Roadway to link region with northern Alberta

Last Updated Apr 28, 2023 at 8:58 am MST

Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA and Alberta Jobs Minister Brian Jean announces an agreement with area First Nations in Peerless Lake, Alta., of the construction of a new economic corridor between Peerless Lake and Fort McMurray. Video screenshot supplied by the Government of Alberta.

A vital economic corridor connecting northern Alberta will soon be hitting the road.

The Alberta government has signed an agreement with area First Nations, paving the way to extend Highway 686 from Fort McMurray to Peerless Lake in the northwest.

Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen said the 218-kilometre stretch of two-lane gravel roadway will improve access to goods and services for communities and businesses across the region.

“We are pleased to work with Loon River First Nation, Peerless Trout First Nation and Bigstone Cree Nation on this historic project to promote economic growth and an additional emergency route for people in the area.”

MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche and Jobs Minister Brian Jean called it an important day for the north.

He added the travel time between the two communities is about seven hours, and goes as far south as Edmonton.

“For too long, northeastern and northwestern Alberta have experienced similar problems and issues without being able to help each other move forward, together. With this historic agreement, we are beginning to connect and unite Alberta’s north. That connection will help bring long-term economic opportunities and prosperity to all of Alberta’s northern communities.”

Located north of Timberlea, Highway 686 is also known as the Parsons Access Road.

Loon River First Nation Chief Ivan Sawan said he looks forward to partnering with Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo.

“This exciting project to extend Highway 686 represents an unprecedented opportunity for our Nation to realize a new economic vision and a new economic future for our people, where we are participating in the development of our region as a key player, a primary partner in all decisions, and a meaningful beneficiary from the growth and development that happens in our territories.”

Kevin Weidlich, President and CEO of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development and Tourism, is also excited about the economic opportunities.

“Connecting Highway 686 to Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo will forever transform our region’s economy. This new highway will lower our supply chain costs and open up new business opportunities for local Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses.”

No timetable was provided on when the extension would be completed.

The government said it will do consultation and environmental assessments on the project first.

It added the deal worth $2,000,000 will support First Nation coordination and advice.

A potential contribution of $5,000,000 would go to pre-engineering work.