Highway 63, the main road to my hometown of Fort McMurray, is again in the news.
It hasn't been a stellar winter thus far when it comes to road safety on 63. Sadly, a number of people have lost their lives travelling to and from Fort McMurray.
The opposition and angry columnists are keen to place the blame on the provincial government for not doing enough.
Liberal Leader Kevin Taft is demanding that a clear end-date be provided with regards to the completion of Highway 63.
Edmonton Sun Columnist Neil Waugh has a lengthy missive about what he believes is a complete failure on the part of government to move the project along.
Both Neil and the Liberals have suggested that precious little work has been done on twinning the highway.
First of all, I doubt that either Kevin Taft or Neil Waugh drive Highway 63 on a regular basis. Although the last time I was on the highway was over a year ago, I remember noting great progress compared to the highway we used to know.
Let's take a look at the list of major provincial highway projects. There are 15 separate items on the wish list for Highway 63.
Admittedly, things are not moving as fast as anyone would like. Ideally, we could just plunk down a new twinned highway tomorrow. Kevin Taft and his party may think this is possible, but most Albertans know better.
Highway 63 is certainly over-taxed when it comes to the volume of traffic it serves and twinning will be an important part of improving its safety.
What scared me far more when I was a regular user of 63, though, was the reckless and careless manner in which so many drivers operated their vehicles... particularily during poor winter weather.
Highway 63 sees a far greater incidence of excessive speed, dangerous passing, and drunk driving than other highways.
To cut down on this, the police have stepped up Checkstops and patrols on 63. The provincial government has also brought on highway traffic sheriffs to help crack down on dangerous drivers.
These measures help, but more can be done. Namely, by those that drive Highway 63.
The twinning is happening, but it's a massive undertaking that will take several years. In the meantime, drivers need to take personal responsibility for their actions on the road. Its not only their lives they put at risk.
The companies who employ workers who make their living in the oilsands but make their home elsewhere also have a role to play. Make sure your employees aren't getting behind the wheel in a state unfit to drive. Provide transportation if possible, fewer vehicles with overtired or intoxicated drivers are always a good thing.
Finally, residents of Fort McMurray need to realize that, if the weather on the highway is poor, having to spend the weekend at home isn't a bad thing. Sure, it may mean missing out of that shopping trip, hockey game, or concert in Edmonton, but its not worth the risk when the roads are in bad shape. Shopping locally, watching the game on TV, or listening to your iPod won't kill you.
McMurrayites have long complained about the need for twinning Highway 63. Finally, they have been heard and are getting results as quickly as can be expected given the scope of the project.
A twinned Highway 63 is what McMurray needs.
What it does not need is duplicitous lip service from columnists eager to sell papers or opposition politicians who (falsely) think they can gain a seat in the legislature.