Local residents were able to learn more about the plan to twin part of Highway 39 east of Estevan during an open house on May 22 at the Souris Valley Aquatic and Leisure Centre's multi-purpose room.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways brought placards that detailed the scope of the project, the steps that are needed for twinning to occur, and the reasons to have double lanes. Ministry representatives were on hand to answer questions from the public.
Spokesperson Doug Wakabayashi said the open house is part of a location study, which is an important first step in the twinning process.
"Basically, what we're doing with the location study is determining which side of the existing highway we'll be twinning on," said Wakabayashi.
The ministry doesn't enter the consultation process with a preference of where the second set of lanes should be built, he said. But they will consider topography, safety, geotechnical considerations and other factors, along with public opinion, before they make a decision.
"We do look at the impact on existing land uses and existing land owners, and certainly when you're adjacent to a developed urban centre like Estevan, you'll never find a route where there's no impact on anybody, but we do try to mitigate negative impacts to the extent that we can," said Wakabayashi.
People who attended the open house had questions about connections between a twinned Highway 39 and the east access point for Estevan's new truck route. The junction was planned out during the pre-construction phase for the bypass, he said.
They also want to know how twinning will impact traffic flow, particularly at the junction of Highways 39 and 18.
The overpass for a coal transport road between Estevan and Bienfait will also pose challenges, he said. It's an issue that the ministry is discussing with Westmoreland Coal.
Wakabayashi said Highways shouldn't have to relocate Highway 39 east of Estevan to make the double lanes possible. If they do, that would add a significant cost to the project.
The ministry typically does have to acquire land for double lanes to be constructed, he said, as the second set of lanes will fall outside of their existing right of way.
The double lanes will end somewhere between the junction of Highways 39 and 18, and the Roche Percee access road. Wakabayashi said the exact location hasn't been determined.
Traffic numbers at the open house showed that there were more than 9,000 vehicles per day on Highway 39 between Estevan and the Shand Access Road. The traffic count remained above 7,000 vehicles daily at check points between the access road and the junction with Highway 18.
It dipped to over 2,000 a day south of the Highway 18 junction.
The pre-construction process can take up to two or three years, Wakabayashi said. The length of time needed for the planning phase, and the availability of funds in future budgets, will also determine when the second set of lanes will be constructed.
"Generally, our planning studies of this nature go fairly smoothly, but, for example, we did run into some issues with the Estevan truck route," said Wakabayashi.
Once the location study is finished, Wakabayashi said the next phase would be a functional planning study that looks closer at operational issues. Highways would have another open house in Estevan for that phase.
The open house did not, however, have any further details on the plans to twin Highways 39 and 6 from Estevan to Regina. Premier Brad Wall revealed last summer that the government plans to move forward with double lanes for the 200-kilometre stretch of highways, thanks to rising number of vehicles, in particular heavy trucks.
The provincial government announced in the spring budget that pre-construction work for twinning Highways 39 and 6 would begin this year.