Transport infrastructure is one of the significant reasons for Alberta’s economic growth. Its historical development has been largely dependent on the growth of new transportation infrastructure. There are two transcontinental railways, two highways to the United States and three to the Pacific, and two international airports. However, with the recent COVID-19 pandemic. So, what is the latest trend in transportation to and from Northern Alberta?
COVID-19 pandemic concerns
The COVID-19 pandemic is a primary concern for the province, which is still navigating the waves of the virus. Public health officials have asked healthcare workers and the community to be vigilant about COVID symptoms and their levels of risk. Travel restrictions have been lifted, but some regions remain closed to people, including southern Alberta. In addition, the province has implemented several measures to ensure public health and safety.
The B.C. government lifted the COVID-19 mask mandate and planned to end the COVID-19 vaccine passport program on Friday. However, the top doctor in the province said measures could be reinstated if an enormous surge in COVID-19 cases occurred. Meanwhile, Edmonton marks Tuesday’s second anniversary of the WHO COVID-19 pandemic declaration. It surpasses 4,000 fatalities.
The NEAH Drive project
The NEAH Drive project is a massive highway construction project. The project is part of a larger infrastructure project known as the Edmonton Ring Road, which is expected to benefit the trucking companies in Edmonton. It will be the largest highway construction project in Alberta and will span from Manning Drive south to Whitemud Drive.
It will include 27 kilometers of six and eight-lane divided roadway, nine interchanges, two road flyovers, and two bridges across the North Saskatchewan River. Once complete, it will increase safety and reduce traffic congestion in the city.
The NEAH Drive project is being developed by a consortium of companies, including Meridiam Infrastructure Neah ULC, ACS Infrastructure Canada Inc., and Hochtief PPP Solutions GmbH. The consortium will design and build the road, about 34 kilometers long and worth CA $1.81 billion. The project will be funded through public subsidies, long-term senior bonds, and junior funds.
The Alaska-Alberta rail corridor
The Alaska-Alberta rail corridor (A2A) will connect the deep-water ports of Alaska with North America’s existing transportation network. It will transit through northern Alberta and the lower Northwest Territories. The project is expected to begin soft construction this year. It is likely to connect to Delta Junction, the current endpoint of the Alaska Railroad. It will be a heavy haul, standard gauge railway for bulk dry and general cargo transportation.
The project has long been talked about, but the idea of a rail line connecting Alaska to Alberta only gained traction in Alberta during the past decade. The province faced a severe shortage of pipelines for transporting oil out of the region, and rail connections could provide a more environmentally-friendly option for shipping the raw material.
In 2015, the Van Horne Institute conducted a feasibility study and estimated the capital cost of the rail project between the two provinces to be between $28 billion and $34 billion. However, the exact cost will depend on the volumes of petroleum products and tidewater access options.
The cost of a one-way trip in a hyperloop
The cost of a one-way trip in a reversible hyperloop between Edmonton and Calgary is currently unknown. But a transportation company called TransPod plans to make the journey cheaper by using TransPod’s pods. The company expects to secure private financing for the first portion of the line. TransPod intends to build a 20-kilometer stretch of hyperloop between downtown Edmonton and the Edmonton airport by 2031. A feasibility study has projected a $22.4 billion cost and $45.1 million per kilometer along 350 km of unique track.
According to Musk’s estimate, the entire project will cost $7.5 billion. It will cost around $6 billion to build the passenger version of the hyperloop. It will take 20 years to make the entire system, so the cost of a one-way ticket is calculated in terms of amortization over that time. A one-way trip in the hyperloop would take around 45 minutes and cost approximately $60 to $80.
Construction of a high-speed rail line
A recent report by the Canadian government on the possibility of building a high-speed rail link in Northern Alberta says the project could cost anywhere between C$3 billion and C$20 billion. After a similar effort in the Windsor-Quebec City corridor, Alberta’s high-speed rail effort is the second serious attempt to connect major cities within Canada with bullet trains. However, several cities in Alberta are too far apart for high-speed rail to be viable, and the price would have to be competitive.
In the mid-1980s, Peter Lougheed started formal investigations into a bullet train. Then, in the mid-1990s, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein revived the issue. The plan was later canceled due to budget concerns and uncertainty about ridership, but interest in a bullet train in Alberta was never wholly lost. The runaway economy and growing population have also helped rekindle public interest in building high-speed rail in the province.
Oil sands development in Northern Alberta
Canada is home to over 170 billion barrels of oil – more than the combined reserves of Nigeria and Iran. Approximately 15 percent of this oil is recoverable, and Alberta’s resources account for 75% of North American petroleum reserves. The oil sands development process began in the 1960s. It was initially conducted on a small scale, but a rapidly declining oil supply led to a ramp-up in production.
Oil sands development has become an industry dominated by ExxonMobil and Suncor. These companies have reshaped the landscape of Northern Alberta by constructing sprawling waste ponds that leach heavy metals into groundwater. Meanwhile, processing facilities produce sulfur and nitrogen oxides that escape the atmosphere. This pollution can travel miles, explaining why environmental groups and First Nations communities seek a moratorium on new oil sands development.