Premier Greg Selinger and his colleagues are constantly making announcements about how important infrastructure projects are to him and his NDP government.
Just like his “no tax increase” promise in the past, he has failed on his promise to make improvements to the decaying infrastructure in the province of Manitoba.
One colossal failure happened three years ago and impacted hundreds of individuals, businesses and companies in southwestern Manitoba. In the spring flood of 2011, the bridge spanning the Souris River on Provincial Highway 251 was destroyed by the raging floodwaters that ultimately added to the flooding on the Assiniboine and Red rivers.
The bridge, located about 10 kilometres north of the Canada/U.S. border and approximately 29 kilometres south of Melita, is an integral part of Highway 251, the main artery connecting all of southwestern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan.
This highway is the vital transportation route used by the burgeoning oil industry, farmers with land on both sides of the river, children going to school, patients travelling to health-care facilities, business people serving the area, people engaged in social activities, and those who were determined to travel the long distances to cast their ballot against the present government in the recent byelection.
Once the bridge was destroyed the people and businesses had to take alternate travel routes and they had three options:
1. Go through the U.S. with restricted hours of operation at the Canada/U.S. border crossing and travel approximately 100 kilometres one way which would add one and a half hours to their trip
2. Use a municipal gravel road and bridge built for light local traffic which is particularly dangerous for school children travelling on school buses and adds 48 kilometres and close to an hour due to horrific road conditions and the need to reduce speeds.
3. Go on a provincial paved road 80 kilometres one way that adds an hour of travel time. This is the route of choice for most because of safety reasons and to avoid the wear and tear on vehicles using the gravel road.
For three years the traffic has been disrupted and forced to choose between three unacceptable options forced upon them by a government that has failed to follow through on its “promise” to place infrastructure needs as a top priority.
At what cost? Adding up the income that is generated for the provincial coffers by the economic activity in the affected area would total in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Common sense should have told the premier that the bridge needed to be fixed immediately. Those lost dollars could have been saved, the bridge built in a timely fashion at reasonable cost, and the taxpayers not inconvenienced personally and monetarily as they have been.
Now for the rest of the story; the irony of this situation came when the oil companies operating in southwestern Manitoba offered to help fund the building of a temporary structure similar to the one built and wholly paid for by the taxpayers over the Souris River at Hartney. The government in its infinite wisdom refused the offer.
But that is not the end of this woeful tale. In the winter of 2011-12, the people hit upon an ingenious solution to the problem. Once the river was completely frozen over, they began driving across the river on the ice. Again they were thwarted when the RCMP, on behalf of the government, began issuing traffic tickets to those attempting to cross. The ticketing continued until the people built a fish hut on the river; it was apparently then legal to take a vehicle onto the ice, pass the hut and continue across.
In the spring of 2013, the contractor from B.C. hired to build the bridge was within days of completing the concrete pour for the piles for the new bridge when Premier Selinger’s Highways department imposed road restrictions on the road leading to the bridge. If one were truly interested in improving infrastructure, why would restrictions have been placed on a road that was closed and impassable for the general public and was now being used only by trucks hauling concrete for the replacement of the bridge? No more concrete hauling meant another delay. Now the proposed opening of the bridge is said to be slated for late March — three long years later.
When you are governed by a party whose leader does not think it is necessary to keep his promises and believes in squandering the hard-earned money of the taxpayers, I leave it to you whether it is time to change the government in Manitoba.
Former deputy premier and MLA,
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 7, 2014