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

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fort McMurray, 2017 - A Vision

There are times I wish I had a crystal ball to see the future, people. Not my own future so much, as I am quite content to let that be unknown and discover it along the way. No, I wish I could gaze into that ball and see the future of this region - and this community. I wish I could get some glimpse of what we will look like ten or twenty years down the road. Today, though, I've been thinking a little shorter term. I've been gazing into the crystal ball in my mind and envisioning Fort Mac in 2017, just five short years away.

Do you know what I see? I see an expanded MacDonald Island Park, one that has already hosted stadium style concerts, ones with big name acts that right now we can only dream about. I see our city centre revitalization in action - not finished yet, but coming along very nicely, with new developments at every turn and excitement at every corner. I see an expanded airport handling international flights, and a far cry from today's current state of congestion (there are days when it is so full I am tempted to simply sit on the first available lap). I see a community that has already hosted several national and provincial sporting competitions, and has won bids for even more due to the advanced state of our sports facilities. I see new neighbourhoods, schools, medical clinics...and I see something else by the end of 2017. You see, people, I see the one thing that links it all up, that allows us to really showcase this community to the wider world. You see, in that crystal ball, by the end of 2017, I see a fully twinned Highway 63.

Over the weekend, in between filling ice buckets backstage and schmoozing with musicians at Canada Rocks 2012 (stay tuned for more posts on that this week!), I read Mike Allen's report and recommendations on Highway 63. For the most part I was very pleased, especially with the emphasis on increased enforcement of laws, higher penalties for transgressions, and changing the culture of aggressive driving. The only point that troubled me - and it is a large point - is the timeline. While the timeline according to the government was initially eleven years (eleven years!!!) it has now been shaved down to eight, with the hope to trim it down even more. Here's my thought, though: we can do better.

I have a lot of faith, people. I have faith in the can-do attitude of this region. I have faith in the strength of our leadership at all levels, municipal, provincial, and federal. I have faith in our bold and innovative ways in this region. And I have faith in us, in our ability to get things done in ways thought impossible. Maybe that eight years would be the answer somewhere else - but not here, and for a few reasons.

For starters this isn't anywhere else. This is a place facing extraordinary challenges, and it is an extraordinary situation. As a result we need extraordinary leadership (which we have, I believe) and we need extraordinary solutions (which we can find, I think). This community is on the cusp of an explosion in every sense. I have been saying this for some time but now I have the statistics and knowledge to back it up. We have new oil sands projects ready to roll. We are looking at exponential growth in our population (to 230,000 by 2030, doubling our current population - a staggering increase by any measure). We are looking at increased demand for everything from retail services to hospital services to houses to...well, you guessed it, roads. And right now, the road that links it all is Highway 63.

As our community and region grows this highway will see traffic unlike any it has witnessed before. Untwinned it will see even more carnage, too. Based on the numbers from the last 6 years we have seen a fatality on the highway at an average of every 1.3 months. If it truly takes eight years to twin the highway that number becomes unacceptably high to me, even as a potential. Even with all the other measures implemented, even with increased patrols and increased fines and increased turnouts and rest stops, we will see more head-on collisions. And those collisions, those head-ons, are the ones most likely to result in fatalities - and we all know it, from residents to politicians.

So, my solution. Let's allocate the resources to get this done not in eleven years, or eight years. Let's do it in five. Let's go with the belief that we can do anything we put our minds to doing, because we have the ability to do it, people. We know it can be done. How do we know this? Well, because we are currently building a world-class city in a remote northern location, that's how. We are already doing "the impossible" right here in Wood Buffalo every day. We are taking a little community that has seen some turbulent times and dancing it right onto the world stage, showing it off for the entire global community to see. We are achieving the impossible every single day in this region. And that's how I know we can twin Highway 63 by the end of 2017, people. I know, with the right level of will, the right resources, the right leadership, and the right degree of collaboration that we can do anything. Because frankly, people, we already are. Just look around you. We are already showing our ability to do anything. Now we just need, quite literally, to take that onto the road - and right onto Highway 63.

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