The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure continues to meet with community stakeholders to discuss Golden’s best options for when the Trans-Canada Highway twinning project east of town will begin in the spring of 2020.
Trans-Canada Highway closures are probable, and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure continues to consider all options about closures times, and what will best suit the surrounding communities. The highway project is intended to increase safety and efficiency through the Kicking Horse Canyon, and includes four phases of improvements.
“The province is essentially looking at all of the options that are out there,” says Town of Golden CAO Jon Wilsgard.
Some of those options may include rerouting traffic through Highway 93 from Banff, Alta., to Radium, and up Highway 95 to Golden, for long periods of time, only allowing local traffic to and from Field, including school buses and emergency services.
Longer closures are being considered in the spring and fall, allowing for temporary closures during the busier travelling months in the summer.
Highway closures regularly have an effect on the community. In the winter, unexpected accidents and scheduled avalanche control reroutes traffic and often forces travellers to spend extra hours in Golden.
Increased traffic through Golden could impact the community in a few ways.
“I expect the first thing people in town will think of is the congestion,” Wilsgard said.
Even with increased traffic, and the Highway 95 Kicking Horse River bridge slated for replacement, Wilsgard says the bridge will be able to withstand a significant increase in traffic, but congestion may occur as motorists maneuver both corners on either side of the bridge.
“The issue is more the volume of traffic trying to cross it from both directions,” he said.
While highway closures could create an influx in traffic, the additional transport through town could filter more people into the community looking for services, and could create potential for more people to stay in Golden while they’re travelling though.
“We’ve been asking for this for more than a decade. There’s no pain, no gain,” said Tourism Golden executive director Joanne Sweeting, who sees increased traffic as an opportunity for the town. “There will be benefit at the end.”
When the Trans-Canada Highway is open, many travellers will simply stop on the highway for gas, food, and other amenities, without making their way into the town. Businesses on the highway rely on the consistency of travellers passing through, so Kicking Horse Country Chamber of Commerce executive director Shawn Bethune hopes there is a way to route traffic over the overpass to ensure people continue to pass by all of those services.
“For some businesses, having traffic come through town could be a positive,” he said.
The Kicking Horse Canyon sees summer traffic averages around 12,000 vehicles per day in peak summer months, and 13 per cent to 30 per cent commercial vehicles depending on the season. The Province of B.C. states that Kicking Horse Canyon sees collision rates three times more than the provincial average for similar two-lane highways. The total estimated project cost for Phase 4 (west Portal to Yoho Bridge) is $450 million.
Rerouting traffic through Highway 93 adds an extra hour to travel time from Calgary to Golden, and traffic would only be rerouted for condensed periods of time, which would help the project reach completion quicker. Right now, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is meeting with community stakeholders, including Town of Golden Staff, Tourism Golden, Kicking Horse Country Chamber of Commerce, and more, to discuss all viable options before the plan is set in stone. Bethune invites business owners from the community to provide their input to him at email@example.com.