Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Road Rage

There are four words that strike terror into the heart of anyone who lives in this city. Those four words? "Accident on the bridge". You see, Fort McMurray is a city divided by the Athabasca river. On the south side of the river you have the downtown core, the hospital, most of the office buildings and services, and some residential areas (as well as the only highway out of town, the infamous 63, or, as some call it "the highway of death"). On the north side you have residential areas, some shopping and offices (more in recent years as the population on the north side has surged) and, of course, the two largest oilsands sites, Suncor and Syncrude. The sides of the city are connected by two bridges, each with two lanes. On one bridge traffic heads south, and on one it heads north.

This might not seem to be an issue until you've been stuck in a traffic jam for two hours trying to cross a bridge. All it takes is one accident on the bridge and traffic grinds to a complete halt. I actually never leave home with less than a quarter tank of fuel for fear of being trapped and running out of gas (has never happened but there is always a first time). This seems absurd in a region with a population of 104,000, but the point is that the roads here are woefully inadequate for the traffic they see. Not only are there the "real" residents using them, but also contractors, consultants, and delivery vehicles. You share the road with dozens of enormous trucks carrying all manner of supplies for the sites. Toss in some ambulances and police cars with sirens screeching and you have complete mayhem, even on a good day. Crossing the bridge, which should be a 5-minute journey, can become an exercise in frustration.

The real problem is that this is growing worse every day, and is likely to continue to do so. Common wisdom is that the city is headed into another boom, and while new bridges are being constructed the progress seems slow. I watch every day for hopeful signs but it appears it will be some time before the new road system will be functional. There will be overpasses to help speed traffic along, and the new bridges will be nothing short of miraculous. Until then when I hear the words "accident on the bridge" all I can do is hope like hell that it's the bridge headed the other direction and take my chances along with everyone else. Well, that and keep a full tank of gas.

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