Seizing vehicles option on oilsands 'death' highway, but no photo radar or tolls

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EDMONTON - Drivers concerned about their safety on a treacherous highway to Alberta's oilsands want speeders to face higher fines and have their vehicles towed away on the spot.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver said he will consider the ideas and most others outlined in a report released Friday — all except for photo radar.

He also doesn't support a suggestion of putting tolls on Highway 63, an idea that didn't make it into the report but one that has been publicly debated as a solution to fund further twinning of the road.

McIver said he wants Premier Alison Redford, now in China, to review the document. He expects it will take several weeks before the government decides which ideas it will adopt and where the money's going to come from to implement them.

"We will explore, as government, all options to increase the safety on the highway because we want everybody to get home safe," McIver said.

Redford asked for the report last month following public demands and protests for the government to fast-track twinning of the road dubbed the "Highway of Death."

The primary stretch of road linking Edmonton to Fort McMurray has seen hundreds of crashes and deaths. In April, two children and a pregnant woman were among seven people killed in a fiery head-on collision.

The province announced in 2006 it would begin twinning the 240-kilometre highway, but since then only 19 kilometres south of Fort McMurray have been completed.

McIver said the cost to complete the project is about $550 million and he wants the 11-year timeline reduced to less than eight. The province is likely to ask the federal government for financial help, he added.

NDP critic Deron Bilous said twinning needs to happen much faster. He called the report useless.

"This Conservative government obviously isn't sure how they're going to proceed with this project ... I think that the hard-working people of Alberta, who use this highway to get to work every day, deserve some real concrete targets."

Shayne Saskiw with the Opposition Wildrose echoed the disappointment. "If you have a document with no timelines, no money, what is it good for?"

Mike Allen, the legislature member who represents the Fort McMurray region, compiled the report based on public consultations. He said twinning the highway alone won't make the road safer.

His report also recommends more passing lanes, safety rest areas and fencing to keep out wildlife.

It suggests a dedicated police unit, including a helicopter, should patrol the highway. And education through signs and messaging could help change speeders' attitudes.

Allen said a motorcycle driver was clocked last week going 279 km/h in a 100 km/h zone. The driver was arrested on the spot.

This week, police handed out 489 traffic tickets. Seven drivers were going more than 50 km/h over the speed limit.

"This activity is not to be tolerated anymore," said Allen. "Driving is a privilege and it's a privilege that's not to be abused."

While the report suggests speeders have their vehicles seized and face harsher fines in court — up to $10,000 — McIver said further study would need to be done to determine what circumstances would merit the penalties.

British Columbia and Ontario have laws that allow police to seize the vehicles of excessive speeders. It's legislation long-supported by the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police.

The report also said the majority of people voting in a telephone town hall meeting about Highway 63 supported photo radar or speed cameras.

But McIver said he believes most Albertans don't like photo radar and it's been a long-standing government policy to keep it off provincial highways.

Organizations: Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police

Geographic location: EDMONTON, Alberta, Fort McMurray China British Columbia Ontario

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