Key part of southwest ring road on track to open this fall, not 2021

For years, both the NDP and UCP governments have promised Calgarians that the $1.4-billion southwest ring road would not be opened to traffic until the fall of 2021.

But almost half of the freeway is actually slated to open this fall.

Alberta's transportation minister tells CBC News he's optimistic that will happen.

The proof of the earlier opening date is tucked away deep inside a government document.

Part of ring road a 'priority'

In the public-private partnership contract between the government of Alberta and its contractor Mountain View Partners that was signed in 2016, the province split the project in two.

It specified that the 15-kilometre portion of the ring road between Glenmore Trail and 146 Avenue S.W. would be the priority and that it was to be available for traffic on Oct. 1, 2020.

That section of the freeway is being built on the land that the provincial government acquired from the Tsuut'ina Nation.

Government of Alberta

The agreement specifies the remaining 16-kilometre portions of the ring road — including south of 146 Avenue and a section along Highway 8 — would open on Oct. 1, 2021.

Yet no one in the Alberta government has ever mentioned publicly that any part of the ring road would open before any other section.

Preliminary work started in 2016 and major construction commenced in the spring of 2017.

Minister says project is on time

Transportation minister Ric McIver said while he's hopeful the deadline will be met, the weather may get the final say.

"It's all dependent upon construction and how much we actually get done. Right now, our contractor's been doing a good job. They're on schedule," said McIver.

"We're trying to stickhandle the thing to the finish line but as of this day, I believe we're on schedule."

McIver called an Oct. 1 opening a "best case scenario" but losing too many days this summer to rainy weather could affect the timetable.

Under the terms of the 2013 ring road agreement the provincial government signed with the Tsuut'ina Nation, a seven year clock on the project started ticking in 2015.

The government agreed that if the freeway wasn't opened to traffic by May 2022, the land the province acquired from the Tsuu'tina Nation would revert to the first nation.

Since that time, both the NDP and the UCP governments have stated publicly that the entire project would be completed by the end of 2021.

Early opening a surprise

Word of a 2020 opening of the key middle section of the ring road comes as a surprise to some.

Brian Pincott, a former southwest city councillor, said he was never aware of a potential early opening date for that section in any conversations he had with government officials about the project.

The second vice president of the Woodcreek Community Association, Keith Cartmell, was also caught off guard.

"I was quite astonished to hear that actually. We had always been under the impression that it was a year from then," said Cartmell. 

"I had never seen or found anything that indicated this fall was the opening date for this section of the road."

The community backs onto the ring road. He said there's been plenty of construction noise over the past couple of years so the end of that will be a relief to residents.

Cartmell expects word of the early opening will be welcomed by people who live in Woodbine and Woodlands as it will reduce their reliance on 14th Street to head north and speed their trips to areas like Westhills and highways to the mountains.

City has prepared for opening

The City of Calgary is ready for an early opening.

It has built new roads to link up with the ring road, including new extensions of Southland Drive and 90th Avenue S.W.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

That work was completed last year. The extensions remain closed but they can be opened quickly to traffic once the first section of the ring road is completed.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he's pleased part of the project will be done soon.

"For nearly seven decades, Calgarians have waited for the southwest ring road to be built. It's great that this promise is being fulfilled and I'm happy the city was able to play a part," said the mayor in a statement.

In the past, Nenshi described the megaproject as a win-win-win project for the city, the province and the Tsuut'ina Nation.

Ring road helps Tsuut'ina plans

The ring road is a key part of Tsuut'ina's economic development plans.

A massive commercial, retail and residential development on the eastern edge of the reserve called Taza is being planned.

The first sign of that development, a Costco store, is expected to open this summer.

Tsuut'ina officials would not comment on the impact of a potential 2020 opening of the middle section of the ring road.

The provincial government announced in 2016 that this portion of the ring road will be called Tsuu'tina Trail.