POLITICS

Alberta assigns more people to patrol deadly highway to oilsands region

07/24/2012 12:00 EDT | Updated 09/23/2012 05:12 EDT
EDMONTON - The Alberta government hopes more police will reduce the carnage on a dangerous highway that is the main road to the oilsands region in the Fort McMurray area.

The province says it will assign 16 more sheriffs and RCMP to patrol Highway 63 by next year, including four officers by the end of next month. The province said it will also install electric digital signs that will show how fast people are driving.

"I don't know that everybody who gets a ticket appreciates it, but everybody that goes up and down the road safely and get back to their family or their jobs safely — I'm sure they appreciate it," Transportation Minister Ric McIver said Tuesday.

The move is in response to recommendations in a government-commissioned report into the high number of fatal and serious collisions on the highway.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford asked for the report following protests for the government to fast-track twinning of the road dubbed the "Highway of Death."

The primary stretch of road linking Edmonton to Fort McMurray has seen hundreds of crashes, many with serious injuries and deaths. In April, two children and a pregnant woman were among seven people killed in a fiery head-on collision.

"We are very focused on ensuring that we are putting everything in place with respect to traffic safety and enforcement that is going to allow for a freer flow of traffic and a safer flow of traffic," Redford said at a pancake breakfast in Edmonton.

There was no mention in Tuesday's announcement about a recommendation in the report to give police the power to immediately seize and impound the vehicles of people caught driving at excessive speeds.

British Columbia and Ontario have such laws and the step has been long-supported by the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police.

Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis said the vehicle seizure recommendation is still on the table, but would require changes to legislation before such a policy change could be made.

"We recognize that this is something we may want to consider, but at the same time we want to ensure that we take every step possible before we go the vehicle seizure route," Denis said.

He said an immediate vehicle seizure law would not apply to people caught driving 10 or 20 kilometres over the speed limit. Alberta police chiefs have recommended the immediate seizure of vehicles where a person is caught driving more than 50 kilometres over the limit.

The province announced in 2006 it would begin twinning the 240-kilometre highway, but since then only 19 kilometres south of Fort McMurray have been completed.

The cost to complete the project is about $550 million and the province wants the 11-year timeline reduced to less than eight.

Earlier this month, Alberta announced it was speeding up three construction projects along Highway 63.

Tenders went out for two new passing lanes and extensions to six existing lanes with completion expected by next summer. The other projects include grading for the next section of highway twinning and several kilometres of tree clearing.