The Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways' 2011 traffic study has offered another indicator of the growth that is happening in southeast Saskatchewan, and it has given the Time to Twin Committee more ammunition in their fight to get double lanes for Highways 39 and 6 between North Portal and Regina.
According to the traffic study, released during the July 30 meeting of Estevan City Council, traffic numbers have increased on most highways in the southeast.
Highway 39 at the eastern edge of Estevan's city limits had 6,220 vehicles per day in 2011, which is an increase of nearly 1,500 vehicles per day from 2009.
“I know we've always been high,” said Estevan Mayor Gary St. Onge. “We have a lot of traffic, especially going east of here.”
St. Onge expects that most of the traffic increase comes from motorists who use Highway 39 to access Highway 18, which has also experienced an increase in traffic. There were 2,460 vehicles per day near Oxbow, compared with 2,270 two years ago; and 2,010 each day near Carnduff, compared with 1,670 in 2009.
“Highway 18 used to be pretty quiet, but now there's all that oil traffic out there, too, so I think that's where the biggest increase came from,” said St. Onge.
The study also found that there were 3,670 on Highway 39 west of Estevan each day; 2,540 on Highway 47 north of the city; 1,450 on Highway 47 south of Estevan; and more than 1,000 on Highway 18 west of the Boundary Dam Access Road. All figures represent an increase from 2009.
St. Onge said that the numbers give the City greater leverage when lobbying the provincial government for funding. They have been waiting for the province to come up with their share of the money to resurface Highway 47 that runs through Estevan.
The figures for Highway 39 drew the attention of Time to Twin 39 committee chair Marge Young. The committee hasn't deviated from their goal to see the 240 kilometres of Highways 39 and 6 twinned between North Portal and Regina.
Young said she was a little surprised with the numbers for Highway 39 east of Estevan, as well as Highway 39 east of Weyburn, where there were 4,100 vehicles per day, compared with just 2,900 two years ago.
“It is a bit higher than I thought, but I wasn't totally surprised,” said Young.
There were about 3,000 vehicles per day using Highway 39 near Midale, which is an increase of about 400 a day from two years ago. Traffic was up on most other areas of Highway 39 between North Portal and the junction with Highway 6.
Young noted that the other options being considered for twinning – Highway 16 from Saskatoon to the Manitoba border, and Highway 7 from Saskatoon to the Alberta border – continue to have lower traffic volumes than Highways 39 and 6. Those highways also don't have as much heavy truck traffic.
“Safety is what our committee has always stressed,” said Young. “That's why we started this, and why we continue. We have the higher traffic volumes. We know that we have the larger traffic size with the tanker trucks and semis and oilfield traffic.”
Passing lanes aren't a viable option for Highways 39 and 6, she said. A combination of passing lanes and twinning, which Young views as merely an attempt to save money, isn't acceptable, either. The committee views twinning as the only option.
Young predicts that the number of vehicles in the area is only going to increase due to the Bakken oil field, the carbon capture and storage projects at the Boundary Dam and Shand Power Stations, the increasing number of people in the southeast and the Global Transportation Hub in Regina.
The committee has contacted Estevan MLA Doreen Eagles' office to request a meeting with the new Highways Minister, Don McMorris, who represents the Milestone-Indian Head constituency. Young said she would like to speak with McMorris as soon as possible in the fall.
“The other request we made of Doreen is that she makes sure that Don McMorris gets our binder of those safety surveys. We had made a binder of over 200 safety surveys,” said Young. “We presented that to (former highways minister) Jim Reiter and that was done in October of last year.”
“She said that if it hasn't been given already to Don McMorris, that she would make sure it was done.”
Petitions that circulated the community to support the Time to Twin efforts will also be presented to the new highways minister.
She is encouraging all levels of government in the area to show their support for twinning the highways.
Young expects that the Time to Twin committee will do a traffic count this year. The numbers compiled by the committee in 2010 and the Ministry of Highways in 2009 have been close, within about five per cent of each other. She expects the traffic count, which will be conducted over a 24-hour span, will likely happen once the oilfield activity in the southeast picks up again.