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Manitoba Vies To Become Centre Of Transportation Universe

WINNIPEG, Man. - While Toronto may be known -usually derisively - as the centre of the universe, it's Manitoba that's the real geographic centre of the North American universe, a fact the province's t...


WINNIPEG, Man. –While Toronto may be known -usually derisively – as the centre of the universe, it’s Manitoba that’s the real geographic centre of the North American universe, a fact the province’s transport industry is working to exploit as much as it can.

That’s the rationale behind CentrePort Canada, or Winnipeg Inland Port, a concept that, because of its strategic, central location, is being sold as a way to connect businesses across the continent with markets around the world.

This government/private sector partnership has set aside 20,000 acres of land (nearly 8,100 hectares) anchored by Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport for the purpose, which will be accompanied by green field investment opportunities envisioned for distribution centres, warehousing, manufacturing and the like.

The CentrePort concept plans to link ground, air and rail routes at the Winnipeg hub, which means the trucking industry will play a big part in bringing it to fruition. And Manitoba’s trucking industry thinks CentrePort’s a great idea – though, perhaps not surprisingly, not one without challenges.

“We’re all for it,” says Bob Dolyniuk, general manager of the Manitoba Trucking Association. “Not only is Winnipeg the geographic centre of the continent, but it’s also the only location in western Canada where both CN and CP Rail co-exist. We also have an air freight terminal that’s available and used 24/7 for domestic and overseas flights, access to the Port of Churchill and the mid-continent corridor. And of course we have our illustrious Manitoba trucking industry.”

Dolyniuk says it’s a great opportunity.

“Winnipeg’s a logical distribution point. You can bring a shipment in by air or rail, and truck it to nearly any point on the continent within 36 hours. It also offers great value for products moving from the midwest US, Manitoba, northwestern Ontario and parts of Saskatchewan to the far east.”

Maybe, but one potential fly in the ointment is Manitoba’s infamous floods, which have been known to throw monkey wrenches into the trucking industry’s activities, especially if they’re heading south past the 49th parallel. Washed out roads are a major pain, causing millions of dollars in extra expenses as companies are forced to reroute their trucks around the wet stuff.

“We had flooding this year, and 2006 and 1997,” Dolyniuk reports, “and we’re preparing some recommendations to take to the province regarding Highway 75 for when it floods in the future.”

He says that particular thoroughfare was closed for 35 days this year due to flooding, and the detour added significant distance to trips between Winnipeg and the US border.

But he believes there are workable alternatives, though he’s being closed-mouthed so far about what they may be.

“We think there are reasonable alternatives without having to create huge detours,” Dolyniuk says. “It will entail upgrading existing roads that bypass the area in question, and some things are in play between various municipalities that bode well (for finding a solution).”

Dolyniuk says support has been expressed from some communities that would be impacted by these alternative routes but, beyond that, he says it would be inappropriate to comment further until his organization has a chance to talk with the minister.

In the meantime, “What we look at down the road, beyond the flooding issue, is the actual border crossing facilities on both sides,” he says.

The current facilities can’t accommodate the FAST (Free and Secure Trade) initiative, which he says is “A bit of a frustration.” Dolyniuk also mentions traffic queues that mix commercial and personal traffic on each side of the border as an issue. “There needs to be dedicated personal and commercial lanes. Certain over-height loads can’t get through the regular traffic lanes now because of a walkway over the booth. We definitely a need to address the infrastructure at the border.”

“Pembina is the busiest port between Blaine and Windsor,” Dolyniuk adds, “and in the preparations for CentrePort being ramped up, these issues will need to be addressed and FAST service facilitated at Pembina as well.”

That ramping up is well underway, according to CentrePort chairman Kerry Hawkins. “We’re pretty well up and running,” he says.

“Twenty-thousand acres have been put under our control, we’re in the process of discussing development of the land -servicing is a big issue -and that’s moving along.”

Hawkins says they have a major grant under their belts from the federal and provincial governments -$212 million -to build a four-lane, high traffic bypass from the west to the airport property directly and will “probably start construction soon.”

So far as the Highway 75 flooding issue is concerned, however, Hawkins sees it as being merely a red herring.

“We assume a flood of some sort will happen every year, and they don’t last months. Every once in a while there’s a longer one, but it isn’t a huge issue.” Hawkins says there are multiple roads available for diverting truck traffic and the ability to get around flooded areas is “Quite sophisticated.”

He admits a flood can add hours to a trip but, “there are over 1,000 trucking companies in Manitoba and none have moved away. It’s an inconvenience, but all they do is drive around it -it’s not a show stopper at all.”

Hawkins says that, generally, only portions of the highways flood and points out that well-run alternate routes are put into effect so trucking can continue. “Look at it in time and how timely you can get from CentrePort to the customer and we’re literally talking about only a few hours’ difference.”

Still, if nothing else, there’s that pesky perception of a vast maritime sea taking up part of Manitoba at times, and Hawkins admits it’s something that potential customers have asked about. “But they’re satisfied that it isn’t a serious issue,” he says.

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‘There are over 1,000 trucking companies in Manitoba and none have moved away (due to flooding).’

Kerry Hawkins


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