With the commitment of ministry staff and construction contractors, the new Grant MacEwan Bridge and the Franklin Avenue Tunnel are open to the public a full seven months ahead of schedule.
“With some innovation, cooperation and good timing, we seized the opportunity to accelerate these major projects. I am delighted that local residents will enjoy the new routes this winter, thanks to our construction partners and Transportation staff.”
The two new projects, worth $51 million, are part of an interconnected network of three bridges over the Athabasca River.
“Our government is delivering the infrastructure our region needs. This is an example of our Premier’s plan to build Alberta and our region. I thank our local residents for their patience as we continue Building Alberta.”
The bridges also connect seamlessly to the Thickwood interchange, Highway 63, the high-load bypasses and downtown traffic. The province and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo will work together closely to monitor the timing of downtown traffic lights and support the optimal traffic flow for commuters.
“Today’s bridge opening is another welcome move that improves Fort McMurray’s transportation network and gives our residents better access to downtown. In a few short months, Highway 63 between our city centre and the Confederation Way interchange has changed significantly for the better. I want to thank the province for its commitment to providing safe travel connections for moving people and goods throughout the region.”
New traffic flows
- The 10 free-flow lanes over the Athabasca River comprise:
- two lanes of southbound traffic on the new Grant MacEwan Bridge, with direct access to downtown Fort McMurray via the Franklin Avenue Tunnel;
- three lanes of southbound traffic on the Steinhauer Bridge (already existing); and
- access to an additional two lanes of northbound traffic on the Athabasca River Bridge, in addition to the existing three northbound lanes.
- For the first week as motorists get accustomed to the traffic pattern changes, the speed limit will remain at 50 km/hr for southbound Highway 63 traffic between Thickwood Interchange and the new Grant MacEwan Bridge. Then, it will increase to 70 km/hr on the Highway 63 main lanes.
- There will be some temporary lane closures along the new Grant MacEwan Bridge in the spring to complete weather-dependent final touches. However, access to the bridge will remain open throughout.
Features of the river bridges
- The new Grant MacEwan Bridge replaces a narrow truss bridge structure that was built in 1965. The old structure was removed and the piers cut down so that a modern bridge deck could be built at a lower elevation connecting to the new Franklin Avenue Tunnel.
- The Franklin Avenue Tunnel gives local commuters direct access to downtown Fort McMurray.
- There are now three bridges crossing the Athabasca River as a single network. The Athabasca Bridge, which was completed in October 2011, has Alberta’s largest bridge deck, and the Steinhauer Bridge, which was completed earlier this year, was widened and the deck was completely rebuilt.
- Together, the investment for the three bridges is $236 million. This brings the investment in recent Highway 63 projects within Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo boundaries to $750 million.
This project is one of the many Highway 63 investments currently under construction to support market access and economic opportunities in the core transportation network, promote safe travel for industry and Albertans, and improve the flow of goods and services.
By March 2014, Alberta Transportation will have invested more than $1.4 billion towards various Highway 63 and 881 projects since 2005, providing critical infrastructure for the Athabasca oil sands region and improving market access. In addition, more than $530 million in municipal grant funding has been allocated in the last eight years to support numerous local priorities.
Under the Building Alberta Plan, our government is investing in families and communities, living within our means, and opening new markets for Alberta's resources to ensure we're able to fund the services Albertans told us matter most to them. We will continue to deliver the responsible change Albertans voted for.
Photo Gallery: Demolition and construction of Grant MacEwan Bridge