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Mother Nature’s drought relief strategy hamstrings truckers

REGINA, Sask. -There's good news and bad news on the Trans-Canada Highway situation in western Saskatchewan.


REGINA, Sask. -There’s good news and bad news on the Trans-Canada Highway situation in western Saskatchewan.

The good news is that the stretch washed out by floods in June was reopened on Saturday, June 26, thanks to a temporary fix and detour. The bad news is that this is only a partial solution for truckers who use that part of Highway 1, at least westbound.

Sometimes it seems as if you just can’t win. The flood, caused by heavy rain, came in an area where farmers often bemoan a lack of moisture for their crops -a region that has seen so much rain this year that if farmers could store it somewhere it might last them through the next drought.

Naturally, one of the other sectors where the most havoc -financial and logistically -was wreaked is the trucking industry, through delays, detours and overall disappointment for just about everyone involved.

And even though traffic is now moving through the affected areas, westbound LCV drivers may be twisting in the wind -or at least jumping through hoops -for months to come.

Doug Wakabayashi, director of communications and public relations for Saskatchewan’s Minister of Roads and Infrastructure, says that since the washout in mid-June they’ve made remarkable progress on getting as much traffic through the area as possible.

“We’ve hauled in some 41,000 cubic metres of material,” he told us in late June, noting that, based on the density to which they’re compacted, the figure works out to about 55,000 metric tonnes.

They’ve also done the grading and compacting and paving to allow for the bypass that lets the highway operate as a two-lane stretch for the duration of the rebuilding process.

And while that’s good news for the public and people driving smaller trucks, the two-lane aspect of the replacement road means LCVs and oversize load are out of the equation, though Wakabayashi also says eastbound LCV traffic shouldn’t be affected.

But westbound LCVs, Wakabayashi says, have to stop at a staging area before the affected stretch, drop part of their load, drive across the temporary section to another staging area just west of the Alberta/ Saskatchewan border, then come back to retrieve the rest of their load.

It’s a hassle, but undoubtedly better than the prospect of splitting the load into two parts and bringing in a second tractor -or, as Bob Dolyniuk, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association says had been happening before the road was reopened, taking an even longer detour to Edmonton before heading back south to the Trans-Canada.

“We appreciate the fact that this is causing inconvenience for the trucking industry,” says Wakabayashi, “so we’re trying to get (permanent repairs) going as soon as possible.”

The immediate priority is to work on the reconstruction of the westbound lanes, he says, which is obviously a critical step in re-establishing full four-lane service.

“We have about 150 metres of the westbound lanes that were completely destroyed,” Wakabayashi notes, “and we’ve already initiated work on it -but that’s a complete rebuild that goes right back to the design stages.”

The whole operation and its effects, right back to the initial flooding, could have been a terribly expensive proposition had it gone on much longer.

“In detour costs alone, per tractor-trailer unit, you’re looking at about $300 per truck one way,” says the MTA’s Dolyniuk, who is very familiar with flooding issues. “So if you figure there are 1,000 trucks moving through there a day in each direction, that’s a $600,000 a day impact on the industry.”

Dolyniuk says that flooding in Manitoba last year cost the industry about $9 million for the 35 days trucks were forced to detour from Highway 75. He doesn’t see the industry lobbying government for compensation due to lost business, extra expense or the like, though.

“I don’t see us looking for something like that,” he says. “And quite frankly I don’t see (the governments) coming to the plate.”

He says that at a recent board meeting, there was no hue and cry from the MTA’s membership to go pounding on the government’s door asking for subsidies.

“Our members certainly aren’t traditionally inclined to go to the government looking for hand-outs,” he says. “But we’ll see where it takes us.” Dolyniuk also notes that farmers are finding little joy in all the cool, clear water that’s flowing unexpectedly in the area -and their angst is sure to mean bad news for truck drivers as well.

“The farmers have been hit hard with bad weather,” he says, “and that means that anyone depending economically on the agriculture industry is going to be sucking wind this year. There are many fields that won’t get planted, so if the farm economy is down then obviously they’re not going to have money to buy things and if they’re not buying things stuff isn’t going to be shipped in.”

And as the farmers go, so goes a good part of the economy. “Alternately,” Dolyniuk says, “the stores will be ordering less stuff and we’re the ones who’ll be feeling it along the way.”

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‘Anyone depending economically on the agriculture industry is going to be sucking wind this year’

Bob Dolyniuk


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