A big step closer
By David Willberg
There is still a lot of work that remains before the drive from Bienfait to Regina can become a 210-kilometre jaunt on a four-lane divided highway, but Premier Brad Wall has just boosted people's optimism about the future of the international trade corridor.
The Premier confirmed during a recent trip to Estevan that the government is now leaning towards twinning the highways, instead of the passing lanes. Local residents, of course, have loathed the idea of passing lanes since it was broached a few years ago. Twinning isn't imminent, but it is gaining traction with the government.
The province has already announced that it would twin Highway 39 from Estevan to the junction with Highway 18. Traffic numbers have been soaring on the highway, and if the trends continued, the number of vehicles will exceed 10,000 per day by the end of the decade.
It was a start and a good sign, but it appeared that passing lanes would still be happening elsewhere. And if the government planned on the passing lanes being two or three kilometres in length, and happening every few kilometres, then they weren't going to make a difference. They weren't going to resolve the 10-vehicle or 12-vehicle bottlenecks frequently seen between Estevan and Regina.
And so they wouldn't enhance safety.
Some will be disappointed that the highway won't be twinned from Regina to North Portal, but there isn't enough traffic from the junction of Highways 39 and 18 to North Portal to justify double lanes. If it's going to cost over $1 million per kilometre to purchase land, build the road and pave it, then it's hard to justify twinning 25 kilometres of highway with under 2,000 vehicles per day. The province's highway grid has more pressing needs.
The federal government will need to come forward with funding, just like it did for the much-needed twinning of Highway 11 from Saskatoon to Prince Albert.
A twinned highway should result in a significant influx of traffic onto Highways 39 and 6, because people won't be forced to take Highways 33 and 47 to get to Regina anymore.
For the Time to Twin Committee, Jackie Fitzsimmons' Heavens Flowered Highway initiative and all those who have worked hard to push for twinning, it appears that their hard work is about to be rewarded, even though the four-lane highway likely won't be finished for a number of years.
And we can't pop the champagne corks and toast to a twinned highway just yet. Until the final deal is inked, the lobbying will have to continue.