Arguably the most picturesque drive in all of North America has a contentious construction issue at hand.
The Icefields Parkway—Highway 93—connecting Banff National Park to Jasper National Park in western Alberta carries travelers entirely inside the two parks on a north-south roadway. Parks Canada wants to add even more opportunities for folks to see the views by constructing a dedicated 66-mile paved bicycle path about 30 to 60 feet away from the current roadway. The new path would move cyclists off an extremely narrow roadway shoulder and provide a tree-lined buffer between the path and the current roadway. While the proposed path itself has attracted opposition from groups claiming the route would interrupt caribou and grizzly bear habitat, the process Parks Canada has taken to get the path moving forward has drawn particular ire.
As reported by The Canadian Press, internal parks documents suggest that Parks Canada has proceeded forward on plans to construct the bicycle path project without waiting for public comment, impact analysis documents or properly dealing with concerns regarding environmental issues. The hurry, it appears, stems from a two-year cut-off date on federal money that requires the $66 million allocated by the federal government in 2016 toward the $86 million project get used within the set timetable. Time now runs thin.
The start of 2017 did bring open public comment periods early in the year, but no report on those comments has yet turned public. A final decision on the impact analysis also waits in the balance, but documents cited in The Canadian Press article appear to have the project moving forward as if it is a done deal in order to not lose the federal money.
Parks Canada says the proposed trail remains in the conceptual phase and that the agency will work through all the proper channels before making a final decision on the project. At the same time, according to meeting minutes obtained by The Canadian Press, engineers on the project were mindful of construction windows, aggressive construction timetables and specifics related to the design of the path.
Outside groups have started calling for more transparency when it comes to public engagement on new projects, especially the proposed Icefields Parkway bicycle path, even as Parks Canada engineers may continue working to get a project shovel ready for the moment a final okay does come through.
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.