And Miles to Go

33 kilometres down, 210 left to go on the twinning of Highway 63

It's been five years since the provincial government committed to twinning 243 kilometres of Highway 63 in northern Alberta, a commitment that is expected to cost about $1 billion when the last stretch is finally paved.

When all of Highway 63 will be twinned is anyone's guess. So far, 16 kilometres south of Fort McMurray and 17 kilometres north of Fort McMurray are finished.

So what's going on with the other 210 clicks?

Construction began in January on eight kilometres of highway south of Wandering River, an area characterized by heavy muskeg. Grading is expected to be completed before the frost is out of the ground.

There's no word, however, on when the contract for paving work will be awarded. "We are removing much of the soil where the roadway will go and using fill to help build a stronger roadway," explains Heather Kaszuba, a spokeswoman for Alberta Transportation. "We want to allow time for grading work to settle prior to beginning the paving work."

The short stretch will probably be paved as part of a contract that includes other sections of the highway, as paving contracts are typically for a certain distance of highway.

Sigfusson Northern Ltd. is doing the grading of the $20-million project.

Another 36 kilometres of grading is underway north of Wandering River. The province is investing $35 million in that stretch and grading is expected to wrap up this fall. A separate contract for paving work will follow. The northern section does not require the settling time that the southern section needs and is predicted to be the next section to open to traffic.

Prairie Roadbuilders Limited of Edmonton is the contractor.

While that's all the news on twinning, other improvements to Highway 63 are also underway. The $127-million, five-lane bridge over the Athabasca River is scheduled to open this year. Flatiron Construction Corp. is the contractor.

The $300-million interchange project at Thickwood Boulevard and Confederation Way in Fort McMurray will begin opening in stages starting in 2012. South Rock Ltd. is the contractor in charge of that project.

About 70 kilometres of Highway 63 north of Highway 55 has been repaved and about five kilometres of Highway 63 inside Fort McMurray has been widened and repaved. Approximately six kilometres of passing lanes have been added in two locations.

The government is providing more than $190 million in budget 2011 for the construction of Highway 63 and the Northeast Alberta Transportation Corridor. Says Kaszuba, "This is about investing in a region that makes a tremendous contribution to the province's economy."

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