Only in Manitoba do we slow down in an attempt to speed up.
Earlier this week, the province announced plans to spend $213 million on improving the Trans-Canada Highway west of Winnipeg to the Saskatchewan border.
The work, which includes fully paved shoulders, rumble strips, resurfacing, intersection improvements and four new bridges, is apparently — according to Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton — intended to bring the national route up to U.S. interstate standards. Most of this new work includes paving and intersection improvements between Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie, and new paving west of Portage to Highway 34, with some new paving planned for a section of highway east of Virden.
Once the highway improvements are made, Ashton has promised that officials will then determine whether the highway is safe enough to raise the speed limit to 110 km/h from 100 km/h.
Never mind the fact that these improvements rely on money collected from the recent PST increase — it’s just more proof the NDP finally figured out it had better actually spend that tax hike on infrastructure or face even greater wrath from ticked off voters.
That’s a discussion in and of itself.
As with many NDP announcements and advertisements these days, nothing is really quite as touted. If the improvements to the Trans-Canada Highway truly will bring it up to U.S. interstate standards, they will have to meet very specific guidelines as outlined by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, in order to make that claim.
These guidelines, which are defined in the AASHTO’s publication “A Policy on Design Standards — Interstate System,” call for specific requirements for controlled access onto and off the roadway, a minimum design speed of about 121 km/h, minimum lane widths, and so forth.
We also note that the vast majority of interstate highways in the United States do not feature traffic lights, a claim that certainly cannot be made about Manitoba’s section of the Trans-Canada.
But what’s in a name, really? So it might not meet the specific definition of an interstate highway. The government is still considering an increase to the speed limit, right?
Well, that particular promise is nearly 10 years old, and was made by former Manitoba premier Gary Doer back in 2004. As the Sun reported on Tuesday, Doer proposed looking at the speed increase after work to twin the entire highway was complete. The twin lanes, which used to end 10 kilometres west of Virden, were completed in 2007 — seven years ago.
And for seven years, the question of a speed limit increase along the Trans-Canada has been bandied back and forth by government officials. These same sections of highway where improvements were made are now seven years older, and will themselves need upgrading at some point.
To be fair, however, there have been a few cautious steps forward in the meantime.
The province last increased the speed limit on certain sections of twinned roadways in Manitoba to 110 km/h in July 2009, including the Trans-Canada Highway from the Saskatchewan border to Virden and Highway 75 from the Emerson border crossing to St. Jean Baptiste.
One year ago, the Manitoba government said it would conduct a review of rules around setting speed limits, with new rules supposed to be in place this year. As yet, there has been no announcement on what those new rules will be, and how they will affect traffic along the Trans-Canada.
In our opinion, this latest round of road improvements has less to do with improving the drive for ordinary motorists along the Trans-Canada, and more to do with Winnipeg’s CentrePort Canada and the completion of CentrePort Canada Way.
That’s not really a criticism— the greater the use by trucking firms, the great the need for a convenient and transport-quality highway. It’s a move we certainly support.
It’s just unfortunate that it has taken the NDP more than a decade to make proper improvements to one of Manitoba’s most important roadways. And then, in piecemeal fashion.