Nine kilometres of all-weather road from La Loche to the Alberta border will be built this year, as soon as conditions allow.
Premier Scott Moe, speaking from self-isolation brought on by a COVID-19 infection, said that the project has long been discussed between the two provinces.
“It’s a commitment that was made a number of years ago by then Premier Calvert and Premier Klein from Alberta. They had made a commitment that they would each finish their respective portions of this road,” said Moe.
A completed highway would connect La Loche and Buffalo Narrows to Fort McMurray.
At the time, the Alberta side needed 76 kms of upgrading and the Saskatchewan side was about 53 kms.
The road was originally announced as a project to commemorate the two province’s centennials in 2005.
Saskatchewan broke ground on Highway 956, its portion of the project, in 2007 and completed 44 of the total 53 kilometres in 2008.
“We’ve been actively working at our portion of that commitment,” said Moe. “Now we’re going to move forward and complete the other nine kms of road as well.”
Saskatchewan will be asking Alberta to commit to finishing their portion as well.
Having a finished road would allow the region to share a labour force back and forth, said Moe, adding that resource development in the area is starting to escalate.
“What we see happening in the mining industry in the La Loche area, with a couple new uranium mines going through the process of approval in that area, means there are some great synergies that can be made,” he stated.
Last week, NDP leader Ryan Meili and La Loche Mayor Georgina Jolibois, who is also running for the NDP in the upcoming Athabasca by-election, called for more investments in northern roads, saying that the area gives more to the province than it gets back.
“Whether its access to health care emergencies or being able to access communities to bring in materials, to having people coming in for work; the existence of good quality roads makes a huge difference,” said Meili. “(This area) has been a huge source of incredible wealth for Saskatchewan and has seen so little of that wealth returned.”
Jolibois said that leaders in the area are developing a northern roads strategy that will look at multiple highways, including Highways 155, 905, 9 and others.
“It is very important that we have a very good road system,” said Jolibois.
She said that local community leaders do well and make progress when working together but they have seen less attention from the province than she would like.
“Where we lack the support is with the province. The province will come up and meet with us, and talk to us, but they’re not really listening,” she said. “When they send information afterwards, it’s really just information and there’s no action plan.”
Preconstruction on the last nine kilometres will start this spring near Garson Lake with the actual building slated to be done by the end of 2023.
No firm budget has been set for the remaining nine kms.
“We set about $6 million so far for the Saskatchewan side. We don’t have a budget for the last nine kilometres but whatever that is, we’ll be completing it,” said Moe.
Moe has written a letter to Premier Jason Kenney of Alberta asking for him to follow through on the commitment made by Klein.
“As long as it takes to do the necessary engineering and design and put it out to tender, we’ll have it done as soon as possible,” he said.
“It really builds on a number of other investments we’ve been making throughout the north,” said Moe.
The new commitment is an addition to the almost $68 million the province has already invested in northern infrastructure in this fiscal year, including education and housing.
“We heard loud and clear last week when we visited Pinehouse, Buffalo Narrows and La Loche that the investment is appreciated and more is needed,” he said.