Twinning Highway 3 a mixed bag for Crowsnest Pass, says SouthGrow director
Twinning Highway 3 through Crowsnest Pass will very likely bring a host of economic opportunities and generally higher real estate prices, according to Peter Casurella, executive director at the SouthGrow Regional Initiative, an economic development alliance hired to promote the initiative.
Crowsnest Pass is on the road to becoming “Canmore South” anyway, he said.
Casurella explained at a chamber of commerce lunch in Blairmore on May 10 that the highway project, announced by Alberta’s United Conservative government last November, is a boon for the province’s rapidly growing tourism and agribusiness sectors — but it will hurt some small-town businesses in southwestern Alberta.
He was less nuanced about his expectations for the future of Crowsnest Pass’s tourist-driven economy.
“There's a lot of people [between the provincial and federal governments] looking for ways to help you build businesses that help bring more people from overseas to spend their money here in Alberta,” he said. “Take advantage of that. Get greedy because it's going to be good.”
Chamber members heard much the same at a November presentation in Lundbreck by Yvonne Chau, Travel Alberta’s manager of destination development: The province is projecting $3 billion in tourist spending in the southern Rockies through 2035.
“If you let change happen and just sit there, refusing to change along with it, you're screwed,” Casurella said last week. “You'd be a smart business person to think, ‘OK, the world is changing. I can't fight it anymore. I'm gonna make money.’ ”
“Become Canmore South” by planning year-round tourist attractions, he advised.
Residents who value the area’s slower pace of life may not want that, but resistance could be futile.
“If you don't want to become Canmore South, I guess the hard reality is that we live in a free-market economy. And your neighbours will defect when they see profit and opportunity. If you don't seize the opportunities, somebody else will,” he said, adding that he’d “bet a down payment on a property that my wife and I could afford, that this is the way things are going.”
The province has committed to twinning the 325-kilometre stretch of Highway 3 that traverses southern Alberta, starting with a roughly 25-kilometre segment between Taber and Burdett.
The exact routing for about 35 kilometres between Pincher Station and Crowsnest Pass is subject to a two-year engineering and design process, but tentative designs published in a December 2022 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggest the twinned highway would bypass half of Blairmore and all of Coleman.
“People driving past your community all the time isn't necessarily a bad thing,” Casurella said, qualifying that small towns wax and wane depending on development “fundamentals” like local industries and population density.
Southwestern Alberta’s oil sector is “not a big thing anymore,” Casurella said, adding that coal is steadily declining in the eastern Rockies. The region’s tourist and tech economies are poised to take off, while agribusiness shows no signs of slowing down, he qualified.
Diverting heavy transport trucks from downtown Coleman will meanwhile improve traffic safety, reduce congestion and perk up the neighbourhood’s business district.
Twinning the local stretch of highway will reward current home and business owners with higher property values and a generally more appealing investment climate.
“It will limit opportunities for young people wanting to buy properties here,” Casurella acknowledged.
Local real estate is already a hot commodity, so much so that market inflation added $92 million to the Pass’s assessed property values between 2021 and 2022, according to a staff report attached to council’s March 28 agenda.
Speaking after Casurella, Mayor Blair Painter noted that Crowsnest Pass, like many Canadian small towns, is up against an affordable housing crisis.
Painter, who supports the project from his seat on the Highway 3 Twinning Development Association, said he’d had a tough conversation with Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen in March about the Coleman-Blairmore bypass, and the need to safeguard parts of the historic Frank Slide.
The province will very likely have to expropriate some properties that are in the way of the highway expansion.
“In Frank, alone, we’re going to lose five businesses and many, many homes” to make room for the highway, Painter said.
Twinning the highway will massively stimulate growth across southern Alberta, with Casurella anticipating that community losses will be mostly offset by macroeconomic gains.
The Canadian Pacific Railway will probably also move to expand its Crowsnest Pass line in the near future, Blair and Casurella said.
Laurie Tritschler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze