A lifeline for northerners: Saskatchewan announces 67.8 million in upgrades to northern airports and highways

Highways minister Fred Bradshaw says airport and highway upgrades will help address northern infrastructure concerns

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways announced funding for several major projects in northern Saskatchewan that are expected to be completed through the end of this year. 

“We’re delivering 67.8 million in support of the northern airports and roads. So, we’re doing quite a bit of work up there,” Highways Minister Fred Bradshaw said.

“We’re looking after the north, we’re working hard, and we’re putting a lot of money into the north to be able to improve both airports and highways — and all the infrastructure that’s up there.”

The largest commitment is to the rehabilitation of the Fond-du-Lac airport, expected to be completed this fall at a cost of $14 million. 

The project will incorporate upgrades to the runway, taxiway and apron, as well as the installation of a new airfield lighting system. 

Bradshaw said compacting the runways at northern airports that are not paved is especially important because it will allow larger planes to use them. 

“We’ve been improving the lighting and putting in GPS approaches. The other thing too that we’re doing is getting NAV Canada to work on the compaction of these airports. So that we can fly larger aircraft in and out of those airports as we need,” Bradshaw said. 

“Without it being a paved runway, but actually being compacted properly, it can be put to use as if it was a paved runway. 

“These are very important things that we have to do to be able to have the larger aircraft out of there and to make everything work out properly for the ambulance airplanes.” 

Bradshaw said he understands the vital importance of improvements to transport infrastructure in order for the region to prosper. He said airports in particular are “very important to the people in the north to be able to get in and out.”

“We’re looking at all of the different airports and seeing exactly what all is needed to improve the conditions of the airports,” Bradshaw said.

“We are going to continue to work on the airports because those are the lifelines for the northern people to to be able to operate.”

Bradshaw was in La Ronge, Île-à-la-Crosse and La Loche last Friday meeting with community leaders and representatives about local transportation infrastructure operated by the Ministry of Highways. 

“I thought we had fairly productive meetings up there talking to the people and listening to what they have to say and what their concerns are up in the north,” Bradshaw said

The infrastructure situation has become a federal election issue in the northern riding of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. 

Liberal candidate Buckley Belanger and NDP candidate Harmonie King have pointed the finger at incumbent Conservative MP Gary Vidal saying that they will prioritize infrastructure if elected.

Bradshaw said he agrees with Vidal’s assertion that the province is generally responsible for highways and said the Saskatchewan government remains committed to that mandate. 

The province has committed to improving more than 1,350 kilometres of Saskatchewan highways this year, the second of its 10-year Growth Plan goal to build and upgrade 10,000 kilometres of highways.  With this year’s projects, Bradshaw said the province is ahead of the pace needed to meet this target.

$300 million in highways stimulus funds is also being invested over several years in thin membrane surface upgrades, passing lanes and improvements to municipal roads.

The province has invested more than $10.6 billion in highways infrastructure since 2008, improving more than 17,100 kilometres of provincial highways.

“Highways are the province’s area. We have been working hard on improving our highways up to 2030, and on our expansion for growth within Saskatchewan,” Bradshaw said. 

“We’re trying to help everywhere… We’ve been putting passing lanes in our various different highways — making the safety of the highways far better.”

Bradshaw said he’s looking forward to upgrades at the Cumberland House Airport that he himself uses. Those will include base strengthening, apron and taxiway grading. 

Fencing and permanent lighting installation are being upgraded at Pelican Narrows Airport. Meadow Lake Airport will see a rehabilitation of the airfield electrical system, including replacing underground wiring, pull pits, transformers and installing or replacing LED runway lights.

Highway 106 will get spot improvements between the junction of Highway 135 and Creighton. A gravel road upgrade 14 km south of Pelican Narrows on Highway 135 will benefit that community, Bradshaw said. 

There will also be spot improvements at five locations on Highway 155, north of Buffalo Narrows, and three locations on Highway 908. The province is also upgrading the gravel road from Cigar Lake to McClean Lake Access Road.

Bradshaw said he sees a bright future for northern Saskatchewan as improvements to infrastructure will allow for more economic development. 

“More lumber mills are coming in and that’s going to provide economic benefits for the north. I totally believe that the uranium is going to turn around too,” Bradshaw said. 

“But it’s not just the highways. A lot of the people and workers up there commute from the airports… So, we want to keep those airports in good shape.” 

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Michael Bramadat-Willcock covers Saskatchewan's north with a focus on natural resources, climate change, mental health, reconciliation and equitable access to health care, education and other services. His work primarily appears in the Northern Advocate. He can be contacted at mbwillcock@paherald.sk.ca. His latest articles can be found at https://paherald.sk.ca/author/mbwillcock/