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City celebrates end of 68 Avenue twinning

Save for some landscaping and street lights, the twinning of 68th Avenue is officially finished. Construction building the new eastbound bridge started in February 2016, followed by the twinning that April.

Both projects were supposed to be done by that fall, but engineer Daniel Dawson says poor weather and unexpected setbacks like slope stability issues and abandoned asbestos underground forced them into a second year. 52 out of 103 possible working days last year were rain days.

“When it rains, maybe for a day, that could take maybe two, three days to get back on course. You have to deal with wet conditions, the ground and all that, get it dried, so that impacts the schedule significantly.”

The budgets for the projects have also increased significantly over the past few years. In the 2015-2018 capital budget, $4 million had been allotted for bridge construction, and $2 million for twinning. The latest estimates pegged the bridge at $6.9 million and 68th Avenue at $8.8 million.

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Mayor Bill Given was on hand for a grand opening ceremony Wednesday, just like he was when 68th Avenue was first extended over Bear Creek. He says at the time, they had no idea how quickly the stretch would need to be four-laned.

“It goes to show how fast Grande Prairie has grown over the last little while.”

Given stresses the importance of the road, as the Bear Creek corridor and the train tracks make it hard to move people across the city from west to east and back.

“The major improvement that the 68th Avenue twinning allows is a freer flow of movement of people from one side of our community to the other, and obviously, with the increased traffic that we’ve seen since the opening of the Eastlink Centre, the two high schools on the Community Knowledge Campus site, this southwest side of the city is becoming hugely important.”

Over the past two years, construction timetables and quality of work have come under scrutiny from the public. Businesses reported a drop in revenues and drivers have questioned the rise and fall of the new road along 68th.

“We had to deal with a flat terrain,” says Dawson. “As part of the design, the dip in the road is to accomodate drainage. In times of flooding, we have catch basins on each side of the curb and gutter that will collect the water and drain it away.”

While Given largely chalks the scrutiny up to the growing popularity of sharing concerns on social media, he says residents need to realize they can only see what’s happening on the surface of a construction project.

“Those opinions are, at best, formed by what they can see happening, and what you see happening on a site doesn’t always speak to the complexity of the design or the things that may be happening at a techinical level under the ground.”

He adds that in addition to building a new bridge and kilometres of new road, the projects also included the installation of curbs, gutters, and storm sewers, along with new walking trails and LED lighting.

Dawson says all that’s left is to put in street lights from Kateri Drive and seed grass along the road. Trees also need to be planted, although that could need to be finished next year depending on the weather.

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