The provincial and federal governments are working together to restore and rebuild the eastern portion of Highway 55, which is prone to flooding and isn’t able to handle primary weights.
As part of six announcements made Tuesday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced $12.5 million to support the upgrading and rehabilitation work along more than 50 km of the highway to make it more resilient int eh face of chronic seasonal flooding. The provincial government will match the funding.
The highway serves as a primary access road to Red Earth and Shoal Lake First Nations, which have a combined population of more than 1,500 people. It also connects rural residents travelling by ambulance to health care facilities and is heavily used by the logging industry and agricultural producers.
“Highway 55 is a major east-west corridor running from the Manitoba border to the Alberta border,” Fred Bradshaw, MLA for Carrot River Valley said during the announcement on Tuesday.
“We’ve had a lot of precipitation in the area in recent years. At times, the water can encroach right up the Highway 55 shoulders. Any flooding or washout would have serious social and economic consequences. There are few options for detour routes around Carrot River and the Pas. This makes access to medical attention and critical supplies very challenging.”
The funding for the project comes out of a federal government fund aimed to help respond to the consequences of climate change, including drought, fire, storms and floods.
“Upgrading Highway 55 will also help the region’s economy,” Bradshaw said.
“In my part of the province, forestry accounts for almost a third of the timber harvested in the province and supports more than 800 jobs. This project will complete a primary weight corridor between Carrot River and Western Manitoba. Access to primary weights is a significant cost saving for the industry and has a positive impact on carbon emissions through fewer truck trips.”
The highway also supports Churchill, as many producers use the highway to connect to train routes ending in Churchill. From there, Saskatchewan products are exported overseas, for far cheaper than they would be able to in Vancouver or the Great Lakes.
The route also connects through Prince Albert. Mayor Greg Dionne said that stretch of highway is necessary for many passing from the east who want to visit the city to shop or to access services. A better road could mean more traffic coming to P.A., he said.
Support for the highway improvements is widespread. Bradshaw read out a list of supporters, which included towns, RMs and chambers of commerce on both sides of the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, including those in Nipawin and Choiceland.
Goodale said the public safety risks of Highway 55, right now, are “very significant.
“In the area east of Carrot River to the Manitoba border, the highway runs into some serious flooding problems for which it was not sufficiently engineered, and it is in very poor shape. If you look at the map and take a look at the alternate highways if 55 is down to flooding, you have to go a long way south or north to complete your journey. Keeping that roadway up and running, even in wet conditions, is a very important public safety objective.”
While the project may take multiple years to complete, work is expected to begin this year.
“This is going to be a godsend for our area,” Bradshaw said, “And for all of Northern Saskatchewan.”