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Cold Lake, Bonnyville councils speak out after Highway 28 construction not funded in budget

The mayors of Cold Lake and Bonnyville say the provincial government is neglecting their region by not funding an overhaul of Highway 28 in February’s provincial budget. 

Highway 28 is a critical route in northeastern Alberta but it’s become narrow, bumpy and filled with potholes. Local politicians say it has insufficient passing lanes and lacks shoulders and rest stops, especially in the Smoky Lake to Cold Lake corridor.

Cold Lake Coun. Ryan Baily recently said travelling on Highway 28 was like driving over a cheese grater. 

The province announced $5 million in April 2023 for engineering and design work on the highway from Smoky Lake to Cold Lake. But the February budget has no money for construction in the three-year capital plan. 

In an interview with CBC News on Friday, Copeland said council was disappointed after seeing the provincial budget. He said the desire for improvements to Highway 28 is the number one priority from the region’s mayors, reeves and Indigenous leaders.

Copeland said northeastern Alberta is home to oilsands operations, which generate billions of dollars in royalties, as well as 4 Wing Cold Lake —one of the largest Canadian Forces bases in the country, which will soon see construction of a massive new hangar to hold new F35 fighters. 

“We just feel that our area just produces so much wealth and we’re not feeling the love,” Copeland said. 

“We know the province has got a big area to manage, but we’re just wanting some of that money back into our area to be invested.”

Jesse Furber, press secretary for Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen, said in an email to CBC News on Friday that Dreeshen is meeting with the Northeast Alberta Alliance for Growth and Opportunities next week. 

NAAGO is an advocacy group representing 12 Indigenous communities and 30 municipalities in the region. Furber said the minister plans to discuss plans for Highway 28 with the group.

Furber said engineering and design work on the road will start this year and will include passing lanes and safety rest areas. The section from Bonnyville to Cold Lake will be twinned. He said money isn’t allocated for highway projects until that work is complete. 

Mayors mystified

Cold Lake council isn’t buying that reason, which was also shared by Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA Scott Cyr in a letter from March 1. 

Copeland noted other highway projects such as the Highway 881 and the Highway 11 twinning had money immediately allocated in the three-year plans after they were announced. 

After complaining about the omission via a press release, Cold Lake city council recently agreed to send a letter to Finance Minister Nate Horner. 

In the letter, Copeland said the region has advocated for upgrades over the last twenty years and said he couldn’t understand why a three-year capital plan could miss an entire region. He wrote he hoped money for Highway 28 is included in next year’s budget. 

Bonnyville Mayor Elisa Brosseau is equally dismayed about the region’s treatment in the provincial budget. She said the highway has been an issue since she was first elected as a councillor in 2017. 

“When there’s a lot of traffic and there’s dangerous goods coming up and down that highway, nowhere to stop, nowhere to pass, it becomes a safety concern for us,” she said. 

Brosseau has no idea why the province keeps ignoring her region despite all the lobbying.  

“I really can’t tell you why they’re not putting money into this highway,” she said. 

“I’m going to assume because it is not designated an economic corridor, therefore they don’t put the emphasis or the attention that they should on this highway…but I really don’t know.”

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