Has the time come for our own autobahn?

Until last week a pedestrian on Calgary’s 16 Ave. could control traffic on the Trans Canada Highway.

My Canadian political science professor at what was then Mount Royal College used to joke about that fact. He’d laugh about how someone wanting to cross the busy strip could stop traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway by simply pressing a crosswalk button.

With the ring road open around the north part of the city highway traffic and truckers can now avoid the congestion and lights of 16 Ave. and bypass Calgary. According to transportation expert Wendell Cox the ring road is a step in the right direction.

Cox has spent his life studying traffic and transportation issues. He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County transportation commission, has authored many study papers, and consulted extensively for public transit authorities in Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand and the U.S.

Most recently Cox authored a study called A Canadian Autobahn – Creating A World Class Highway System for the Nation. He wrote the paper for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Winnipeg-based think tank with offices in Regina and Calgary. The entire paper can be downloaded at www.fcpp.org/publication.php/3030.

“Canada has not developed the kind of high speed, high grade separated road network common in other countries,” Cox said during a telephone interview from his office in Belleville, Ill.

“Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes have done a pretty good job of developing freeways or motorways, but the rest of the country, not so much.”

In his paper Cox suggested many of the world’s developed nations have well-planned and “comprehensive intercity motorway systems.”

However, he goes on to say that Canada’s highway system – essentially the Trans-Canada – is not of world-class standards.

He wrote: “Canada is the largest high-income nation without a comprehensive intercity motorway system. Canada has many high-quality motorways, but they fall short of connecting the nation’s metropolitan areas and major ports. Canada’s highway disadvantage is likely to become more of a problem as truck, general travel and tourism volumes increase.”

His suggestion?

Cox would like to see what he calls a transcontinental alignment built to motorway standards – fully grade separated roads with no intersections at the grade level and two lanes in each direction.

This route would extend from Vancouver through Toronto to Halifax.

In his paper he said a road of this nature in Canada would: “Substantially improve connectivity in the nation. The average metropolitan area would be connected to 52 per cent of other metropolitan areas, which is more than double the present 23 per cent.”

He’d like to see this motorway completed within 10 years. Cox said approximately 40 per cent of the route is currently at motorway standards, and particularly in the eastern part of the country.

The road is not of high enough quality from Winnipeg west, around the Great Lakes and in eastern B.C.

“A very rough preliminary estimate for this autobahn is $28 billion,” Cox said. “All of what needs to be done to improve the transcontinental alignment is outside of the cities.”

Further, Cox would like to see a series of roads built to pre-motorway standards (pre-motorway standards means highways with two completely separated lanes in each direction, with some grade crossings and ramps that would have left turning traffic turn right first to access an intersecting roadway).

These routes would connect cities such as Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg to the U.S. Interstate system.

Cox also suggested bringing the Yellowhead route to pre-motorway standards. This road currently links Prince Rupert, Canada’s second largest ocean port, with Edmonton, Saskatoon and Portage la Prairie.

An estimate for the construction of these routes is roughly $33.5 billion.

In the U.S. the motorway system has as its full title the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

This is commonly shortened to just “the Interstate.” Planning for the system dates back to 1921, but there were several key developments over the years, including in 1938 when president Franklin Roosevelt drew a map that highlighted eight routes for further study.

In 1956 when construction began, Eisenhower, who had experienced the German Autobahn during the Second World War, knew the importance of a good road system in moving military troops and supplies.

Cox added that there are now some 88,000 kilometres of motorway in the U.S., and countries such as Japan, China and India are all building extensive routes.

“The Calgary bypass is slowly improving the Trans-Canada Highway,” Cox said. “It’s a great step in the right direction (for a Canadian Autobahn).”

Photograph by: Fabrizio Bensch, Reuters