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Deerfoot Trail upgrades uncertain as Alberta examines finances

The fate of cash pledged for Deerfoot Trail upgrades is up in the air as province awaits a report on Alberta’s economic health.

One Calgary city councillor, however, said those upgrades are critical if the Alberta government expects to turn the roadway back over the city any time soon.

A month prior to the spring’s provincial election, the then-governing Alberta NDP pledged $478 million for upgrades to a 21-kilometre stretch of Deerfoot Trail. More lanes were to be added, interchanges improved and common chokepoints at Anderson, Southland and Glenmore were to be addressed.

The work was scheduled to start in 2023 and take up to five years to finish.

Alberta Transportation press secretary Brooklyn Elhard wrote in an email that the government “is focused on efficiently delivering public infrastructure investments that support our economy.”

“We intend to honour the NDP’s infrastructure budget commitments, subject to the advice we get from the McKinnon [sic] panel regarding the province’s fiscal health,” she wrote.

Elhard said that Premier Kenney has been clear that should the MacKinnon panel show the province’s health has deteriorated significantly, “we may need to look at paring down capital spending to a degree, but it will still be a multibillion dollar capital spending plan.”

The MacKinnon report is expected to be made public in mid-August. From there it will be incorporated into the province’s fall budget.

Deerfoot Trail upgrades before handover, Keating said

Despite the immediate term funding uncertainty, Calgary city councillor Shane Keating, who chairs the city’s transportation committee, said he expects it will come in due time.

“The minister of transportation, the honourable Ric McIver, knows well the situation,” Keating said, noting that McIver, the province’s former Progressive Conservative transportation minister, attempted a fix of Deerfoot before.

“I’m quite sure they have to look because of the economic situation, and we do know the previous government made an awful lot of announcements in a very short timeframe.”

While Keating said he’s willing to wait as the province examines its books, he’s clear there no way Calgary should take back control of Deerfoot until the improvements are made.

There’s no firm date set for the city’s takeover of the Deerfoot Trail, as it’s currently a provincial responsibility, but the negotiations have been ongoing for years.  Keating said there was talk it would coincide with the completion of the ring road, which is still more than three years away.

“They could give it back to the city as long as they attach a cheque with it,” he said.

Keating was also firm that this $478 million for Deerfoot should in no way impact the province’s commitment to the Green Line as that’s a signed funding deal. He did accept that the city shouldn’t “expect too much all at one time,” in infrastructure cash for transportation improvements.

“You just do go around breaking signed contracts. And if you do, there are consequences wherever, and no one wants to get into that,” Keating said.

LiveWire followed up three times over three days to ask where Deerfoot Trail upgrades fell in the province’s infrastructure priority list, but no response was provided.