Communities rallying support for Highway 32
August 17, 2006
An action plan on how to work with Highways and Transportation to fix Highway #32 between Leader and Swift Current will be fast tracked following a regional meeting on August 9.
The meeting attracted 30 individuals representing communities and rural municipalities situated along the deteriorating highway. However, the group is looking to meet again sometime in early September in order to quickly put together a plan to present to the provincial government so repairs could be included in the 2007 provincial budget.
The group is facing an October deadline in order to present a proposal to the government to even be considered for this upcoming budget year.
Last Wednesday’s meeting was hosted as an opportunity to get people talking about the situation, but it included representatives from Highways and Transportation to help show any possible solutions which could be pursued.
However, the extreme condition of the highway has forced Highways and Transportation to begin work to revert 27 kilometres of the highway back to gravel. The move to revert the road to gravel will make the road safer, in the short term, as it will eliminate the large potholes and other road hazards which currently exist.
“Sections of Highway #32 will be reverted to gravel this year, within the next few weeks actually, and primarily between Lancer and Prelate,” confirmed Martin Kuntz, Area Manager, Southern Region, Highways and Transportation.
“The road as a TMS (Thin Membrane Surface) is extremely poor and very difficult to maintain and expensive to maintain. Once it’s reverted to gravel it’ll be a lot easier to maintain and easier to recover when we do have bad sections that pop up,” Kuntz said.
The Highways representatives pointed out the Thin Membrane Surface (TMS) roads built in the 1960s and 1970s were never meant to be used in the 2000s with the heavier traffic which now utilizes them. In some instances they have the ability to separate trucks and low weight traffic onto different roadways, but Highway 32 is a direct corridor for people and communities between Leader and Swift Current.
According to the 2005-2006 Provincial Budget performance plan for Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation the province continues to make significant progress in transforming TMS highways that are not capable of carrying any significant truck traffic, to granular pavements, which are able to accommodate heavy trucks. According to the document, in 1995, Saskatchewan had 8,600 kilometres of TMS highways and by the end of 2004 the length has been reduced by 2,070 kilometres to 6,530 kilometres, a 24 per cent reduction. The majority of the 2,070 kilometres of TMS highways were converted to granular pavements.
In order to maintain the gravel portion of the highway, Highways has increased their staff at Leader, with two new people already in place and they are in the midst of hiring a third individual. The Leader section office will also receive a second grader in order to aid in road maintenance.
When returning portions of the Highway to gravel, Highways will be ‘milling’ the road. This process involves the removal of the top portion of pavement, with the remainder of the roadway providing a base for the new pavement.
“We found that when we’ve ‘milled’ a TMS road and we’ve taken all of those materials that are on top and mixed them with the subgrade, it actually helps harden and stabilize the subgrade,” Kuntz explained.
The meeting was also an opportunity to hear about potential partnerships which are available which would aid in fast-tracking the highway work.
Ian Swann, Municipal Area Engineer, Southern Region, Highways and Transportation, explained a number of ways where partnerships have been successful in getting necessary work done.
Approximately eight years ago the provincial government began a strategic partnership program to work on specific roadways. This has now been expanded to allow municipalities to contribute in order to help rebuild a highway faster and get it moved up in priority.
“It is still a vital link in this corner in creating a network of roads to allow for the social and economic development of the Southwest. And, as such, I think we have to work to convince the government that this is one that should be done,” Swann explained.
He noted that one Partnership Program is being negotiated to speed up work on another Southwest highway.
Highways is currently negotiating with a series of RMs to complete some work along Highway #37. This Strategic Partnership is proposing work between Gull Lake and Cabri. The poor condition of Highway #37 was forcing traffic off the highway and onto the RM grid roads. To rectify the problem, the RM of Webb, RM of Gull Lake, RM of Riverside and RM of Pittville are all trying to find a way to get this 55 kilometre stretch of Highway #37 back into better condition.
After their negotiations and presentation of a proposal, they are now hoping to hear back on the possibility of a Highway #37 announcement this fall and potential inclusion in the 2007 work schedule.
Swann noted that another highway improvement project negotiated through the Strategic Partnership Program resulted in a series of RMs collecting a one per cent rate increase for five years to pay the municipal portion of the project. This project was a signed agreement between the provincial government and the municipality, which contained a series of performance requirements and other benchmarks needed to be met.
Not all Partnerships require financial backing, as RMs can make in-kind donations, undertake the maintenance of gravel roads, or provide access to things such as RM gravel pits which Highways does not have access to.
Leader Mayor Gary Meier felt the meeting was a good exchange of information.
“I think it’s been a real positive meeting, although it be very preliminary and it’s just going to be a starting point. But at least we have a starting point now,” Meier said.
“Some of the partnering programs sound very positive. It’s something that I think is doable and I don’t think they have to be a huge monetary partnership, it’s just some of the things just to facilitate some of their programs.”
Admittedly, something needs to be done quickly because of the condition of the highway.
“It’s affecting all of our lives. It’s affecting our healthcare, it’s affecting just our daily business. We drive an extra 50-60 miles and a lot of times go in the opposite direction instead of coming to Swift Current. I think Medicine Hat is the biggest gain from the demise of Highway #32, and the whole region here is a big loser.”
Meier said their first step would be to go to government, looking for the repairs to be out of capital budget instead of the maintenance budget because of the importance of the highway as an economic and social link in the Southwest.
If the project does require a partnership to move forward, he feels things would quickly fall into place in order for that to happen.
“People in this area, if we put our mind to something, we can do it. Nothing’s impossible.”
However, Meier is concerned that the highway being reverted to gravel will further deteriorate the road and put it into a condition which they’ve experienced before.
“I hope that they do the maintenance on it like they say they are going to do, because the way it was two years ago when it was reverted back, was virtually impassable certain times of the year. I mean it was downright dangerous. So I’m hoping they do keep up the maintenance as they’ve promised.”
Reprinted with permission of the Southwest Booster.
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