The total land area used by Alberta's road, rail and air transportation sectors is more than 4,700 sq km, or about one per cent of the province's total land area. (This figure does not include a significant number of private roads, trails, railway sidings and yards, and private airstrips.)


Land areas impacted by roads include their immediate rights of way, intersections, junctions and approaches, borrow pits and borrow areas.


Rail line length has declined over the past decade and now uses about 238 sq km of land in Alberta. This figure is based on an average 30 m right of way, but does not include land used for sidings, rail yards and maintenance yards.


More than 180 airports in Alberta have International Civil Aviation Organization designation and more than 60 per cent of these have paved runways. Many private airfields, located on private rural land, have grass runways.

Calgary International covers more than 21 sq km and Edmonton International some 28 sq km. (Smaller rural airports with a single runway may use as little as 20 to 40 ha).

Environmental issues


During road construction, there is often a need for large quantities of good quality clay, supplied from large borrow areas or borrow pits.

For borrow areas, topsoil is stripped and stockpiled. The subsoil (usually a knoll or small hill in a field) is removed and used for construction fill. Topsoil is later spread back over the field, sometimes reducing crop production because of problems with soil compaction and loss or mixing of topsoil.

Borrow pits are constructed by first removing the topsoil and then excavating a large pit, usually 3 to 6 m deep. Borrow pits can affect up to three ha of land, now completely removed from production. In some cases, borrow pits can benefit the landowner by creating a large reservoir for livestock watering.

Altered drainage patterns and erosion can occur before vegetation becomes established on roadway shoulders and ditches.

Maintenance issues arise from the use of salts such as sodium and calcium chloride on winter roads. This material moves onto roadway shoulders, causing elevated soil chloride levels, killing or stunting the growth of vegetation. Wildlife injury and death can result from the attraction of these artificial "salt licks".

Most primary highway ditches are mowed at least once a year to control vegetation. However, some are sprayed with herbicides for vegetation management, where tree encroachment or noxious weed establishment is a problem. Incidents have occurred where drifting herbicide has affected neighbouring fields or water bodies.


Issues here include: use of soil sterilants and herbicides for vegetation control along rail line rights of way; creosote contamination of rail beds and storage yards (from creosote treated ties) and oil and fuel contamination of sidings and maintenance yards. Sterilant use on rail lines has diminished in recent years, as alternatives to herbicides such as fire are used to control vegetation and weeds along rail lines.

Future trends

Rail line and airport development have been minimal in recent years. However, roadway development is still progressing, with the twinning of major highways. Some of this activity involves the major North-South corridor through Alberta as part of a North American trade route. Ring roads around Edmonton and Calgary are under construction and in the northern part of the province roads are being built for resource extraction operations.

Reclamation of abandoned roadways and rail lines is an ongoing program. Some rail lines have been reclaimed to provide recreational trails, with some of these incorporated into the Trans-Canada Trail Network. Reclamation certificates for reclaimed rail lines are required under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.

In some rural areas, agricultural crops are being allowed to encroach into ditches, without compromising road safety. This eliminates the need for vegetation control by herbicides and marginally increases the agricultural land base. Forage is also being harvested from rights of way and interchanges on major highways, providing additional feed for livestock.


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Updated: Feb 4, 2015