WHEREAS a viable provincial highway system with appropriate setbacks from development is important for supporting the long-term economic well-being of the province of Alberta and its municipalities; and
WHEREAS landowners and entrepreneurs want to reinvest in their communities through new developments, often adjacent to the provincial highway system; and
WHEREAS current provincial highway access and development setback requirements can limit the development / economic potential of rural communities, particularly when approved setbacks are restrictive or when roadway improvement costs are applied only to a few adjacent landowners; and
WHEREAS current provincial highway access and development setback requirements do not consider the land use policies or requirements of the municipality, which also has limited authority to influence decisions in this area; and
WHEREAS the Government of Alberta is seeking to remove needless red tape while still upholding fiscal accountability and ensuring the safety of Albertans;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta engage with the Government of Alberta to reduce red tape that limits rural development or economic potential, through a delegation of additional authority to municipalities to regulate provincial highway access and setback requirements, and a review of the provincial framework in this area to reflect best practices from jurisdictions across Canada.
The provincial highway system enables the efficient flow of goods and services that helps keep the provincial economy strong. At a local level, municipalities depend on that highway system in addition to local roads to support mobility and economic activity. These are the lifeblood of rural communities, with many landowners or businesses accessing these roadways directly from their property.
Current Alberta Transportation policy requires a permit for any roadside development within a “development control zone,” which is:
Each permit is considered on a case-by-case basis, and are also subject to the provisions of Section 11 – 19 inclusive of the Highways Development and Protection Act, Chapter H-8.5 2004 (and its amendments), and the Highways Development and Protection Regulation (Alberta Regulation 326/2009) (and its amendments). The general minimum setback for all development is 70 metres from the highway centre-line, or no closer than 40 metres from the highway right-of-way boundary, except where these distances must be increased to allow for highway widening.
The current provincial framework for access and setback applications can pose an issue for local landowners and businesses from a few perspectives, including that:
Overall it is recommended that municipal authority be increased to regulate these access and setback requirements, and that a review be conducted of the provincial framework for these matters with an objective to minimize any red tape and to support the development potential of Alberta’s rural areas.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Regulation of Provincial Highway Access:
Alberta Transportation regulates access to provincial highways to ensure the safe and efficient operation of transportation corridors. As such, the department requires municipalities to develop Area Structure Plans to enable municipal and provincial coordination of planning, including the location and type of future highway accesses.
Permits are required for any improvement within 300 metres from the highway limit or 800 metres from centre point of an intersection of a provincial highway and a local road. This distance ensures that Alberta Transportation and municipalities work together to minimize the development-related impact of increased traffic on highways. The distance also allows Alberta Transportation to protect future highway realignment plans and apply standards consistently across the province.
Permits consider access requirements to support the movement of goods and people throughout Alberta, leading to a more efficient highway network with reduced delays and improved safety from appropriate access spacing.
Regulation of Setback Requirements:
When Alberta Transportation issues permits, they in part define setback requirements to ensure that growth-related highway upgrades can be completed without impacting adjacent development.
Since the provincial highway system supports development of adjacent lands by providing connections to public roads, Alberta Transportation remains committed to working with municipalities to define setback requirements through pre-subdivision and pre-development planning, such as Area Structure Plans that acknowledge the function of the highway.
In cases where highway intersection improvements are required to facilitate development, the Municipal Government Act was amended in 2018 to strengthen municipal authority to collect off-site levies for development-related infrastructure upgrades. The amended legislation helps municipalities to spread the costs of infrastructure across multiple developers and over long periods of time rather than only the adjacent properties.
In support of improved coordination, Alberta Transportation staff are currently updating the Roadside Management Classification map, which guides development applications to ensure that highways are appropriately classified based on the most recent traffic growth, the most recent provincial and municipal planning, and in alignment with national standards.
Alberta Transportation supports maintaining approval authority for highway access and setbacks to ensure consistent application across the province, to protect for future highway alignments, and to preserve the intended function of transportation corridors.
The response from Alberta Transportation does include a discussion of the current role municipalities play in development near provincial highways through the development of area structure plans. However, the Alberta Transportation response is clear that they do not support delegating provincial highway access and setback authority to municipalities.
While Alberta Transportation is not delegating the approval of permits in highway control zones to municipalities, they have engaged RMA in a consultation to develop a framework for highway vicinity management agreements (HVMAs). HVMAs would be an enabling tool that would allow municipalities the option to exempt certain types of developments within highway control zones from Alberta Transportation approval, while not limiting the authority of municipalities to issue municipal development permits. Several RMA members have volunteered as pilot municipalities to test the HVMA process. Alberta Transportation is working with the municipalities directly.
Currently, the pilot project has 19 volunteer municipalities participating. As of October 2022, only the City of Camrose has finalized a level 2 HVMA. The pilot project will be closing shortly and the HVMA program will be opened provincially at the end of the year. Level 1 HVMAs will be made available on a gradual basis by Alberta Transportation region. According to Alberta Transportation, when level 1 HVMA abilities become available in a region, impacted municipalities will not have to request a level 1 HVMA, but will be enabled to implement one. Alberta Transportation has invited RMA to a meeting in late November to discuss the HVMA pilots and next steps related to enabling municipalities to utilize HVMAs on a provincewide basis.
As a result, this resolution is assigned the status of Accepted in Principle, and will be revisited based on progress made in making HVMAs available province-wide.