Alberta Politics
Canada Day: A great day to drive Alberta’s secret highways! Here’s one … if you can find it.

No need to make this stuff up: Celebrate Canada Day 2018 by driving the secret highways of Alberta!

Posted on July 01, 2018, 12:52 am
8 mins

Happy Canada Day! Why not celebrate by driving on Alberta’s secret highways?

Frankly, I don’t know how the Beaverton stays in business with the brutal competition they’re facing nowadays from Wild Rose Country.

There’s an expression we’ve all heard: “You can’t make this stuff up!” In Alberta, you don’t need to. The ambitious folks vying to become United Conservative Party candidates in the next provincial election will do it for you.

Len Thom, aspiring candidate for the United Conservative Party nomination in Sherwood Park (Photo: Twitter).

Consider Len Thom, aspiring UCP candidate in Sherwood Park. Until the Orange Wave of 2015, when NDP MLA Annie McKitrick was elected, the Sherwood Park riding was a mostly reliable Tory redoubt. Voters there elected Iris Evans, a minister in Ralph Klein’s and Ed Stelmach’s cabinets, four times consecutively after a Liberal represented the place for one term. So it’s clearly in play in 2019 for whomever gets the UCP nomination.

Mr. Thom Tweeted Friday – and I’m not making this up – “If I am elected MLA for Sherwood Park I will ask @jkenney to get rid of nanny state speed limits on secret provincial highways.”

Area 51, maybe! But who knew we had secret highways in Alberta? For that matter, who knew speed limits were an expression of the “nanny state,” the venerable right-wing dogwhistle for any regulation, no matter how sensible, that someone finds inconvenient.

This prompted a storm of Tweeted responses, many of them hilarious. This is why I reckon this could spell trouble for the Beaverton, the well-known Canadian online news parody site, since we’re writing our own great stuff every day in Alberta now.

Sherwood Park MLA Annie McKitrick, a New Democrat (Photo: Unattributed).

In a post on his campaign website, the would-be UCP candidate explained his point of view a little more. Apparently the part of the Sherwood Park Freeway west of the world’s largest hamlet (population 70,000-plus, and I’m not making that up either) has a slightly higher speed limit inside the City of Edmonton than it does on the provincial section between Edmonton and the secret city.

Mr. Thom, a lawyer, former Conservative constituency association president, and federal and provincial candidate, thinks the 80-km/h speed limit on the provincial section (that is, what he calls the secret part) is too slow and the 100-km/h limit inside Edmonton is more like it. I have this straight from the horse’s mouth.

“These low speed limits are little more than a nanny state cash cow which has already resulted in numerous speeding tickets for county residents,” the would-be candidate complained on his web post, perhaps because he’s collected a few of these expensive pieces of paper himself, as have we all, regardless of what political party is in power or which one we support.

Mr. Thom told me in a Twitter direct message that what he meant by “secret highway” is that “there are no posted signs indicating it is a numbered provincial highway and it does not appear on government road maps as a numbered provincial highway.” His reference to the nanny state, he said, reflects his view “that certain rules and policies tend to not be needed where something can be safely done by virtually everyone without the rule or policy.” (Like keeping your vehicle under 100 km/h in an 80 km/h speed zone, I guess.)

Former Sherwood Park Conservative MLA and cabinet minister Iris Evans (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Now, this may or may not sound silly to you, especially if you’ve driven on a highway in Alberta, but I have no doubt many residents of Sherwood Park will agree with him and vote for him on the strength of this alone.

As an aside, readers should remember that while they can go east, and they can be eastbound, but they can’t “go eastbound.” This is a rule of grammar that apparently is now a secret, even to CBC traffic reporters.

“If I am chosen as the MLA for Sherwood Park I will pick up my cell phone on election night and call Jason Kenney and suggest we get rid of nanny state speed limits on secret provincial highways,” Mr. Thom vowed. “I think I know what his answer will be.”

This assumes Rachel Notley won’t have been re-elected when Mr. Thom is making his imagined phone call, of course, but in that circumstance I’m pretty sure Mr. Kenney’s response would actually be … “Tell Premier Mandel …” No! I’m joking. It would be … “My way or the secret highway!”

Just ask Derek Fildebrandt, the Honourable Member for the Road that Leads Nowhere, about that if you don’t believe me.

Seriously … Regardless of whether Mr. Kenney gets the opportunity to talk to officials in the Secret Highways Department, short of passing legislation eliminating speed limits in Alberta, they’ll throw invisible roadblocks in the way of change.

If they do, they may have the ear of UCP MLA Ric McIver. Back when he was transportation minister in Alison Redford’s Conservative cabinet, Mr. McIver said he was prepared to consider just about anything to get Alberta drivers to slow down – and, who knows, maybe that included secret highways with really slow speed limits! That’s something for the NDP to look into if they really want to get up Mr. Kenney’s nose in another critical cartoon.

Of course, if by some miracle Mr. Thom succeeds with his ambition, the Secret City of Sherwood Park (AKA the County of Strathcona) will likely be unhappy about any loss of revenue that now accrues to it from the inability of some of the worst drivers in Confederation, if you go by insurance statistics, to slow down.

If this story didn’t tickle your funny bone, don’t worry about it. There’s bound to be another one like it soon.

20 Comments to: No need to make this stuff up: Celebrate Canada Day 2018 by driving the secret highways of Alberta!

  1. Tom in Ontario

    July 1st, 2018

    As an almost yearly visitor to Wild Rose Country I’m constantly looking for new touristy thrills. The hustle and bustle of downtown Banff? The Red Mile? Alberta Legislature? Done ’em. What’s needed is something novel like secret highways. Please, Mr. Thom, post their locations on Albertapolitics so that I can experience even more joy gallivanting at nanny state speeds in the fresh air of Canada’s richest and most loveable province.

    Reply
  2. Bob

    July 1st, 2018

    Len Thom should be commended for standing up for basic freedoms for all Albertans.

    Reply
    • Northern Loon

      July 1st, 2018

      The basic freedoms as determined by Len Thom? Pray tell, what other ‘basic freedoms’ does Mr Thom decree we should have?

      Reply
    • MAGGIE

      July 1st, 2018

      Huh? Please expand on this.

      Reply
  3. Jerrymacgp

    July 1st, 2018

    “Secret highway”? Really? We’ve always known highways can be lonesome, but secret? That’s a new one. But there isn’t much of a secret about the Sherwood Park Freeway being designated as Highway 100 … just go to the Wikipedia page for that highway: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherwood_Park_Freeway

    As for the speed limits, as we all know, while the province sets speed limits on provincial highways, municipalities can and do ask the province to post lower ones along certain stretches, for all sorts of reasons, and while the province is not legally bound to honour those requests, it often does. For example, look at Highway 2 entering St Albert from the north, which, IIRC, drops from 100 (or maybe 110… I don’t recall) to 80 at the city limits. The fact that the speed limit drops at the municipal boundary between the City of Edmonton and the County of Strathcona suggests this is what might have happened. So, take your case to the County.

    Reply
  4. Brian Mason

    July 1st, 2018

    I can neither confirm or deny the existence of “Secret Alberta Highways”. Ever.

    Reply
  5. Lars

    July 1st, 2018

    Secret highways? The cat’s out of the bag.

    Let’s hope that nobody tells him about the underground airlines.

    Reply
  6. Bob Raynard

    July 1st, 2018

    Have you ever noticed that the people complaining about a nanny state tend to need one?

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      July 3rd, 2018

      Bravo, sir, Bravo!

      Reply
  7. David

    July 2nd, 2018

    I doubt Mr. Kenney really cares much about secret highways and their nanny state speed limits, I suspect he has bigger fish to fry than the local problems of the worlds biggest hamlet. However silly this is, the saying all politics is local exists for a reason and I suspect it certainly applies in this case. Perhaps Mr. Thom is a good manipulator of the local public mood or his outrage is not feigned, but is the result of him personally getting one too many tickets. In any event, more than one government has been elected by making a few careful local promises – a bridge here, a school there, a hospital there, which can be particularly hard to do in financially challenging times such as those Alberta is currently experiencing. Surely, raising the speed limit on a section of road would cost little financially and I also doubt Mr. Kenney really cares either what Mr. McIver or any former PC would think about it or about road safety. The UCP doesn’t even have to explicitly blame the existing situation on the NDP in this case, it just needs to hint it will change it in order to get the votes of some frustrated commuters.

    Now it might be unfair to characterize the voters of Sherwood Park as all being speed demons and more people there might also be concerned about safety than Mr. Thom appreciates. However, his message as silly as it sounds to those of us who do not live in that community might have a populist appeal to enough frustrated commuters. In that regard it seems to fit in perfectly with the current right wing play book, it doesn’t matter whether the idea is silly or not, it only matters if it resonates with enough of the voters whose support they need to win.

    Reply
  8. brett

    July 3rd, 2018

    That’s it? That is his big issue and his big pronouncement? Alberta has many challenges facing us and many opportunities at our door step. This one is a little way down the list.

    Is this an indication of where this potential candidate’s priorities are? Should be a fairly straightforward choice for the voters in Sherwood Park in the next election.

    Reply
  9. Mike

    July 3rd, 2018

    I drive this stretch of “secret highway” quite often. Mr. Thom’s tweet, although quite silly sounding, will resonate with Sherwood Park residents using this road.

    Prior to the Anthony Henday upgrade of the 17st and Shwd Pk freeway overpasses, the speed limit was 100kph from the Sherwood Park western boundary all the way to 50st and vise versa. The overpasses were in great need of upgrades as they were designed and built for a fraction of the traffic that they were handling in the late 90’s and 2000’s. After the upgrades were completed (2015?), the speed limit was lowered to 80 kph from the western boundary to almost 34st. The beautiful new wide road, merge lanes, and flyovers were designed to handle 100kph with the current traffic load but for some reason the speed limit has been lowered to 80kph.

    Since very few residents use public transit or ride a bike in Sherwood Park, this will resonate with voters. The idea is not a silly one, although Mr. Thom I assume will learn to how to deliver his tweets after this one.

    Reply
  10. Thom

    July 3rd, 2018

    So after nearly 20 years in Alberta, I have a observed a few things about Alberta, its roads, drivers and speed limits.

    1. Speed limits on many roadways are absurdly low, often times – as is the case apparently with the Sherwood Park “secret” highway, but also with the newly upgraded Glenmore Trail in Calgary, to offer one example – for little apparent reason.
    2. Albertans often drive absurdly fast, and aggressively, for no reason other than that they want to.
    3. Many Alberta drivers are not equipped with the skills or temperament to drive for the conditions they find themselves in. Some are ridiculously slow: either so new at driving they are afraid to violate both the laws of Alberta and the laws of physics or sticklers for adhering to the letter of the law, whether the law, their fellow citizens, or good sense agree with them or not. As George Carlin said, anybody going faster than me is a maniac and anybody going slower than me is an idiot.

    Speed kills, so goes the mantra. But it is not true. Absolute speed is not a hazard, per se: simply driving above the speed limit is not, in itself, particularly dangerous. Relative speed is a better way to measure risk. In fact the best research done on the subject has shown that the greater the difference in speed between the slowest moving vehicles and the fastest moving vehicles on a given roadway significantly increases not only the likelihood of a collision but the severity of any collision. To further complicate things, add in multiple different kinds and sizes of vehicles, from big semis and overloads to tiny subcompacts and motorcycles and everything in between, all using the same roads, responding to the same conditions at slightly different speeds.

    We could (in my opinion, we should) have higher speed limits on all limited access roadways. Vehicles made in the last 20 years are the safest vehicles ever made. However, we can’t have those higher speed limits until we get better drivers, driving vehicles more appropriate for their skill levels, on roadways designed for those speeds and the expected traffic flow.

    If safety is the reason for keeping speed limits low, and relying on heavy handed and relatively ineffective ticketing of speeders to make it happen (I mean, come on, there are A LOT of traffic safety laws, surely there are some other ones we could enforce while we’re at it), there are a number of ways we could achieve that.

    We could expand graduated licensing with better, more comprehensive training and license levels for different categories of vehicles (I don’t know about any of you, but I don’t think piloting a Honda Civic for a few years prepares you adequately for driving a 6000 lb SUV or a lifted pickup truck).

    We could have better insurance. That’s a whole other rant, but yes, our insurance is low compared to many other parts of Canada, thanks to a previous provincial government.

    We could have mandatory vehicle inspections tied to vehicle registrations. Before I moved out west in the 90s, I had never lived anywhere that didn’t require some sort of legally mandated vehicle inspection at some point in the vehicle’s lifetime that was tied to its continued registration in that jurisdiction. Even Oklahoma, America’s Alberta, requires inspections at some regular intervals, if I recall. The lifting tide of the 2000s erased the memory of this for many people, I suspect, but there were a lot more junky vehicles on the roads of Alberta when I moved here; the recent downturn has highlighted that not everybody can afford new every year anymore, much less the maintenance on the one they have.

    We could have safer roads and higher speeds, but it would be a lot of work and some discomfort for some people. We have chosen instead to accept the status quo and stick with both slow, unsafe roads and the ineffective, low hanging fruit of active speed enforcement.

    Reply
  11. St Albertan

    July 3rd, 2018

    They can’t expand on inane deflections. If they told you what all the UCP eager beavers wanted? The re-coil might kill you!

    Reply
  12. Dallas

    July 3rd, 2018

    So a friend of mine says I should follow you. Ok. Why?

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      July 4th, 2018

      I’ll give you my late mother’s advice to me: “To thine own self be true.” DJC

      Reply
  13. Bob Raynard

    July 6th, 2018

    I wonder if Mr. Thom considered transition zone length in his in-depth analysis of the situation.

    My wife used to use Sherwood Park Freeway during her commute back to Edmonton from her workplace SE of Sherwood Park. Before the Anthony Henday/SPF interchange was rebuilt she used to have a very stressful time trying to exit onto the cloverleaf while other drivers were coming off of SPF trying to access the Henday.

    I mentioned this to my civil engineer brother a few years ago. I wish I could remember exactly what he told me, but this is my memory of the conversation. (In other words, any errors are mine, not his)

    His first reaction was that cloverleafs are dangerous. If you think about it, we don’t see them in new highway builds anymore, and last summer I noticed that the cloverleaf intersection at Olds, where Highway 27 meets the QEII, has been modified by closing part of it, to eliminate what I am calling the transition zone. (My brother told me the term road designers use, but I don’t remember it.)

    Barry then went on to explain that the reason the south east leg of the Henday does not have interchanges for 34th Street and 66th Street is because it was physically impossible to put them in and still meet code. The code the Henday designers followed required a transition zone of (my guess) 2 km, if the road was going to have a speed limit of 110 km/hr. As a result, Thom’s point about relative speeds needs to consider the speed of vehicles entering and exiting the freeway. The long transition zone allows entering traffic to be at speed when they merge. Since 17, 34, 50 & 66 Streets are all extensions of former rural range roads, they are a mile (ie 1.6 km) apart and there isn’t space for the required transition zone. There are still short transition zones where the Henday meets Whitemud Drive, but they are off the actual freeway and in a 70 km/hr zone.

    Now back to Sherwood Park Freeway. It was built in the 1960s, when cloverleafs were considered state of the art, and its design was considered fine for a 100 km/hr speed limit. With the passage of time, and increases in traffic volumes, engineers have modernized their standards. As a result, the people who designed the renovations for SPF had a choice: build it for an 80 km/hr speed limit or close some interchanges and build it for a 110 km/hr speed limit. Given how close 17th Street is to the Henday interchange, it would certainly have to close. If they were going to keep 50th Street open, 34th Street would also have to close. Given those options, I certainly think the designers made the right choice. Notice this entire discussion is about decisions made by traffic engineers, who have no vested interest in speeding tickets. The hard part is getting people to understand that the posted speed limit is the actual safe speed.

    Incidentally, the distance from 50th Street to the Henday interchange is about 5 km. Driving that distance at 80 km/hr takes 45 seconds longer than driving it at 100 km/hr.

    Did Len Thom consider any of these ideas before reaching his conclusion about the SPF speed limit? While his rant may play well politically, Mr. Thom would be well advised to remember that he is aspiring to be a part of government, and it is irresponsible for government representatives to undermine the public’s confidence in their own experts.

    Reply
    • Thom (not Len)

      July 6th, 2018

      Great response. Where’s the like button?

      Reply
  14. Scotty on Denman

    July 6th, 2018

    Superb!

    The headline momentarily fired my expectation, reminding me of William Least Heat Moon’s book Blue Highways, his travel log of a round-America tour on those lesser known highways coloured blue on some roadmaps, the interesting people he met and places he saw which, for most Americans, remain a secret. I have followed his example in Canada, a worthwhile and repeated experiment, especially when crossing the prairies, those secondary—and even tertiary—highways winding down into beautiful coolies that the major routes don’t attempt, and a needed rejudice for a guy like me whose first trip across the prairies was by train which, naturally, takes the flattest route and prejudiced my recollection of a featureless grassy expanse.

    I enjoyed the piece immensely, nevertheless (I might have pinched a nerve, too).

    Nanny state, eh? My only rejoinders are: ninny state and billy state. But I just can’t make this stuff up like you Albertans can.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      July 7th, 2018

      In truth, I did think of Blue Highways myself when I penned that headline. I thought I was the only Canadian who had ever read it, soon after it was published in the early 80s. Apparently not. A memorable book. DJC

      Reply

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