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New money for Saskatchewan highways

REGINA, Sask. - Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation Minister Maynard Sonntag was in an upbeat mood on may 10 as he addressed a crowd of businesspeople in regina. and he had good reason: he had ju...

REGINA, Sask. – Saskatchewan

Highways and Transportation Minister Maynard Sonntag was in an upbeat mood on may 10 as he addressed a crowd of businesspeople in regina. and he had good reason: he had just gotten off the phone with Federal Transport Minister David Collenette, who was bringing good news.

It appears that Saskatchewan could receive $100 million for highways over five years through recently proposed legislation.

“It looks like our lobbying efforts are beginning to pay off,” Sonntag said. However, since the news was so new, he hesitated to make too many comments since he wanted time to see all the final details.

Sonntag said that the Kroeger and Estey reports on grain handling and transportation, which were produced in recent years, called for more federal funding for the national infrastructure. Within those reports were certain financial benchmarks specific to the province, and Sonntag said he still did not have all the information to determine whether those financial benchmarks were met. Still, the federal announcement was welcome news.

“The early analysis is that the federal government has at least partially agreed with the Kroeger and Estey reports through today’s announcement. We will continue to see what happens, but it appears that the feds are responding,” said Sonntag.

The proposed legislation calls for $175 million to be spent over five years for the four western Canada provinces, but Sonntag says the bulk of the money will be coming to Saskatchewan.

“This legislation moves to address concerns we have about funding road improvements, to mitigate damage caused by grain being transported over road, instead of by rail. Saskatchewan is already faced with incremental annual road impact costs of $50 million per year. Due to continued rail line abandonment and elevator consolidation, road impact costs could reach $85 million per year by 2005,” said Sonntag.

The federal announcement dovetailed with the speech that Sonntag had already prepared for the luncheon. He stressed that the provincial government was pumping more money into infrastructure than ever before, but without federal support it was a daunting job to maintain the roads to the satisfaction of local residents.

In its latest budget, the provincial government allocated $250 million towards the Highways Department — the highest in the province’s history.

The bulk of this budget is being used to fund 101 major road projects and 13 bridge projects. It’s part of an overall strategy that was developed in 1997 to commit $2.5 billion over a 10-year period to the department.

This commitment also included a promise to twin the Trans-Canada and Yellowhead highways by 2012. That would require the construction of 379 km of road at a cost of $200 million. But with the announcement of new federal funding, Sonntag says the timetable to complete the twinning could be moved up. This year the province is spending $13.3 million on twinning.

In other budget numbers, Sonntag said the 101 major road projects will cost $88.4 million, $5.6 million will be spent on bridges and $19 million on grading. The department has 30 resurfacing projects and 22 surface strengthening projects scheduled for this summer.

Rural highways will receive $18 million to strengthen thin layers of pavement. “These are areas that were not meant to accommodate large grain traffic and they are now eroding at a quicker rate than was expected,” said Sonntag. He added that the biggest issue facing the Highways department is maintaining the infrastructure in the face of increased grain traffic due to elevator closures and rail line abandonment.

As well, the province is providing $34.6 million for highway projects in northern Saskatchewan and another $4 million for a highway overpass near Regina. n

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