Alberta Transport Minister makes keynote address at AMTA convention

by Canadian Shipper

BANFF, Alta. — While Ontario and Quebec forge ahead with speed limiter legislation in their respective provinces, Alberta has no plans to follow suit, Luke Ouellette, Minister of Transportation said at the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) management conference.

Ouellette has not changed his stance on speed limiters, which goes against the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s stance, to restrict trucks to 105 km/h on provincial highways. While Ontario and Quebec have announced an intention to implement a regulation requiring all trucks over 11,000 kg to be equipped with speed limiters, Alberta Transportation is not interested.

“I know there are economic and environmental reasons for considering mandatory speed limiters, but I also know it would be very difficult to enforce.”

During his keynote address, Ouellette pointed out Alberta’s Ministry of Transportation will double provincial investment in highway repaving and bridge repair over the next three years, however, he also warned about delays that will likely result from this work this year.

“Highway work will be in full swing throughout the province, including restoring older roads that are nearing the end of their surface life spans,” said Ouellette. “We ask motorists for their patience, as we try to get the work done out there.”

Some of those projects include: construction of a five-lane bridge across the Athabasca River in Fort McMurray; continued twinning of Hwy. 63 near Fort McMurray; (continue) twinning eight km of Hwy. 4 at Milk River; (continue) twinning of Hwy. 21 east of Sherwood Park; extensive construction of Calgary ring road; and construction of the first phase of the Grand Prairie bypass.

Other new Alberta highway projects mentioned by the minister include: continued construction of Dunvegan suspension bridge on Hwy. 2 (oversized vehicles or wide loads are not permitted and will be redirected); replacing the Smoky River bridge on Hwy. 49; (begin) reconstruction of Hwy 625, near Nisku; and (complete) construction of the North Innisfail interchange on Hwy 2 (this fall), and the Hwy. 1 and 9 interchange near Chestermere (by September 2008).

The minister announced preliminary plans to add more safety rest areas along provincial highways, which are intended to benefit truckers, motorists, and also the resource industry, not only for layovers, but also for checking loads. The project is expected to cost approximately $100 million over a seven-year period, but is still in financial limbo.

“We’ve identified the locations for additional rest areas throughout the province, with a particular focus on areas with logging or other resource traffic,” said Ouellette. “Now, we’re working on getting the additional budget dollars for construction. This is one of our priorities and we’re trying hard to get the dollars to proceed.”

Ouellete also warned about lack of interest for Alberta’s “ground breaking” professional driver certification program, which was developed by the Alberta Ministry of Transportation, and Alberta Advanced Education, and offered at Red Deer College.

“I remind you that this is a pilot program, and if it’s not supported as the saying goes use it or lose it. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. I encourage you to send your prospective drivers to this program.”

The minister praised a $1.5 million federal contribution to help launch Edmonton’s Port Alberta project, which is aimed at developing that city as a major inland trade and transportation hub, linking Asia and North America through the port of Prince Rupert. Ouellette said that Edmonton is considered to be well positioned to take advantage of a “significant trade” coming from China to North America, with the airport a potential cargo processing centre for multiple modes of transportation.

“It will be a designated trans-shipment zone, so imported goods can move to export without traditional tariffs. On site warehousing and logistics facilities will service North America’s growing trade through NAFTA, and with Asia and Europe. This promises to have positive economic spin-offs for inter-modal trucking in the years ahead.”

The Alberta government is enthusiastic about the Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), which was signed by Alberta and B.C. two years ago. Alberta recently introduced Bill 1 to fully implement the trade deal with B.C. on cross-boundary business and employment issues, said the minister, who noted the agreement will benefit trucking firms through the standardization of regulations in the two provinces.

“In a nutshell, TILMA simplifies, streamlines and strengthens the way we do business sin B.C. TILMA will diversify Alberta’s economy by eliminating barriers to trade, investment and labour mobility between the two provinces.”

Ouellette also addressed “hours-of-service,” but the minister offered no firm regulatory commitment, and mentioned political concerns on a national level, although he noted that the Alberta Transportation is seeking more input from stakeholders.

“I’m a firm believer in the need for effective highway safety programming, but I want to balance all our regulations with the need to enhance industry productivity. I also want to ensure we’re doing the right thing for drivers not just big corporations, but also for the smaller one and two-truck operators.”

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