"This is a safety issue first and foremost, as every Manitoban knows that it doesn’t have to be snowing for snow to cause problems, blowing and drifting across highways. However, this is also a cutback that could have a negative impact on economic activity."
- Manitoba Trucking Association president Norn Blagden
For the sake of $2.3 million in savings, the provincial government has decided to cut overnight shifts for highways maintenance workers.
As the Brandon Sun reported yesterday, the cuts affect the overnight plowing shift that runs between 11:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. for the Trans-Canada Highway as well as Highways 10 and 16 in Westman. Key routes in and around Winnipeg — Highways 6, 59, 75, 100 and 101 — will also be impacted.
New upgrades on sections of Highway 10, Highway 75 and the Trans-Canada not withstanding, the roads in question are in a poor enough state as it is. Providing even less maintenance for these highways is not even a question of poor road surfacing anymore — it now becomes a question of safety, as Blagden mentions above.
All of these roads are major trade routes, and as the Manitoba Trucking Association has noted, the reduction of snow clearing services on them will impact just-in-time freight movements, especially those that rely on overnight service to rural communities within Manitoba.
Ron Weatherburn, the executive director of maintenance at Manitoba Transportation, told the Winnipeg Sun that the move will save more than $2 million, and also require 12 fewer seasonal workers this winter.
"When it comes to budgets, we need to be fiscally responsible, especially in this economic time," Weatherburn said.
In our opinion, the province is attempting to cut corners on safety on the backs of rural Manitobans and rural businesses, and hiding behind the phrase "fiscal responsibility" will not change that fact.
The Brandon terminal manager for Gardewine Group Inc., George Edwards, told the Sun that what they do now is close the highways more often than in the past for safety reasons.
"They close it frequently, and it was overnight when they would go out and clean," Edwards said. "Now they don’t even want to do that. That will have a huge effect on us in Brandon and on a lot of businesses too."
Edwards said if the roads are bad and need to be cleaned, a lot of people won’t get their shipments on time, especially as many loads tend to move along the highway between Winnipeg and Brandon at night.
The province’s move could also affect service workers in the transportation industry, such as warehouse workers.
At the same time, what good does it to complete road repairs on three major provincial arteries, and then cut the budget to maintain these roadways? Within a few years we’ll be right back to square one.
This is a very poor plan, especially for a province on the verge of a new winter season. Never mind that a provincial spokesman said there are contingency plans for major weather events, or that plows and sanding trucks would be deployed when required.
If the province goes ahead with its plans, we predict that roads will be closed far more frequently for "safety reasons," all to save a few taxpayer bucks. Quite frankly, most Manitobans would likely agree that infrastructure construction, highway maintenance and road safety are more than worthy of taxpayer funding, and should be increased, not decreased.
What the government has failed to realize is that damaging commerce in rural Manitoba and increasing the possibility of fatal accidents on our provincial highways carries a much larger price tag.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 11, 2012