Supergrids might not be the most hyped solution to some of the highway infrastructure issues facing southeast Saskatchewan and other regions of the province, but the concept should not be dismissed.
The provincial government announced late last month that they would fund two supergrids in southeast Saskatchewan on a pilot project basis. One will run from Alida to the Manitoba border. The other is a short stretch of Highway 47 about 20 kilometres north of Stoughton.
Anyone who has driven those highways knows that they're two of the worst in the region, although 47 north of Stoughton has improved from what it was 10 years ago, when it helped Highway 47 win the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's second-ever Highway from Hell Award.
The highways in and out of Alida, meanwhile, have been crumbling for many years.
Supergrids are being billed as wider grid roads that are built on an engineered base, which allows them to accommodate the heaviest allowable payloads. The provincial government claims that they have been used successfully in Alberta, which is a positive sign, but far from a guarantee that they'll work in the southeast.
And they will purportedly cost half as much as primary weight pavement – a critical factor for this province.
Saskatchewan has more kilometres of paved highways than any other province in the country. It's an enduring legacy from the early days of the province, when highways ran in all directions, and there was a community roughly every 13 kilometres along each highway.
Saskatchewan is home to more than 1.1 million, but there is under a million people to fund improvements to all of those highways.
It's hard for the provincial government to justify spending over a million dollars to resurface 15 to 20 kilometres of a road that has under 1,000 vehicles a day, even in a resource-rich area of the province that's helping to drive Saskatchewan's economy.
Super grids might be an option for routes such as Highway 18 west of Outram. The traffic counts from the Ministry of Highways indicate that there is under 1,000 vehicles a day for all traffic check points from Outram to where Highway 18 begins at Eastend.
Highway 361 east of Lampman to the Manitoba border, Highway 8 south of Redvers and many of the highways that run south from Highway 18 to the U.S. border could also benefit.
Some of these highways have already been converted to gravel. Others would likely be better off as gravel roads than in their current condition, since their pavement is chewed up, and riddled with potholes, which forces motorists to slow down to 60 kilometres per hour.
If super grids work, they could be a remedy for other highways in the southeast, and in other parts of the province, that are begging for a solution.