Local passing lanes included in $300M highway stimulus

RM of Shellbrook Reeve Doug Oleksyn speaks to reporters about a wildfire burning near Holbein during a May 16 media briefing. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Local safety improvements are part of a $300-million highway improvement package announced by the province Wednesday.

Premier Scott Moe announced the stimulus package focusing on new highway projects in the province.

The $300 million in stimulus funds will be invested over the next two years and will include thin-membrane surface upgrades, passing lanes and improvements to municipal roads and airports.

That includes the addition of three sets of passing lanes between Prince Albert and Shellbrook on Hwy. 3 and two passing lanes between Prince Albert and Christopher Lake on Hwy. 2.

Drivers heading into Prince Albert from the southeast will also see the continuation of a project to repave that stretch of Hwy. 3 and the restoration of a bridge between Birch Hills and Prince Albert.

A bridge replacement is set for east of Birch Hills, and some culvert work is scheduled near Prince Albert as well. The province also intends to finish work on Highway 355 west of Highway 2, near Spruce Home, this season.

The passing lanes between Shellbrook and Prince Albert have been on the wish list of local politicians for a little while. Earlier this year, both the RM and Town of Shellbrook signed a letter supporting the project.

“It’s a safety issue,” said Doug Oleksyn, Reeve of the RM of Shellbrook.

“There has been a lot more traffic on that highway in the last little while and that was one thought that could help them address the safety.”

Oleksyn said that highway has “grown into” the need for passing lanes.

“Right until the COVID-19 crisis, there seemed to be a lot more traffic — whether for larger trucks or people commuting to work.

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne also praised the project.

“We like it. It makes (the highways) safer,” he said.

Both areas getting passing lanes “are feeders into the city and they’re both very busy especially in the summer,” Dionne said.

“There are lots of double vehicles — campers and trucks and boats being pulled. The passing lanes are good because they can be difficult to pass.”

Planning for the passing lanes will begin this year, with construction scheduled for next season.

The passing lanes are among 24 to 26 new sets announced Wednesday, along with 325 km of thin-membrane surface highways, the rehabilitation of at least 100 rural municipality roads and improvements to community airports. That’s in addition to the $357-million tabled on March 18.

“Provincial road builders generate more than $5 billion in provincial GDP out of an economy of $73 billion or roughly seven per cent of the total provincial economy,” said Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association President Shantel Lipp.

“We employ close to 30,000 workers, making our industry one of the largest employers in the province. We welcome any move toward maintaining and eventually growing these job numbers to get our economy on track.”

According to the province, this year’s fiscal plan also includes improvements to more than 1,000 km of provincial highways, which is the first year of the 10-year Growth Plan to build and upgrade 10,000 km of highways.

 The stimulus plan announcement comes a week after the province’s announcement of a $7.5 billion, two-year capital plan to help stimulate Saskatchewan’s economic recovery post-COVID-19.

— With files from Jordan Stricker, Local Journalism initiative Reporter, Estevan Mercury