Recently I had the opportunity to drive Highway No. 22 from Killaly to Lemberg, and a couple of weeks earlier I had covered the stretch from Highway No. 10 to Lemberg.
To say the asphalt surface was a patchwork affair would be an understatement, starting with the fact you have to dodge holes which have yet to be patched.
Now granted they have undertaken work to upgrade a couple of small stretches where ﬂooding was obviously an issue, but those repairs were clearly made just to keep the highway useable.
As for the rest of the highways, the expectation of them ever being ﬁlled or upgraded is realistically not on the books until the year two-thousand-and-never.
The stretch of highway though is a great example of how the system has changed over the years, and what the impact has been on Prairie infrastructure.
Towns on the Prairies sprung up in the time of horses, built at intervals which allowed a horse and wagon to make a trip to town from area farms in a day.
As we evolved to using trucks, towns were too close together, and many disappeared through the years. Those that remained generally had a grain elevator served by a railroad. They were then connected with pavement, much of it to standards aligned to carry much smaller grain and service trucks than we see today.
Then came the great rationalization of the grain collection system.
It was a two-pronged development which saw the Prairie landscape forever changed.
On one hand, rail companies were allowed to abandon miles and miles of branch lines. At the same time grain companies began closing small elevators in favour of more centralized, high-throughput facilities.
From a purely business perspective, that of the rail and grain companies, the moves made sense as a way to improve efﬁciencies and boost proﬁts. But there was a cost to the Prairies.
Without a grain elevator or rail line, more and more communities died – a process which continues – and even those which have hung on have little prospect of a sustainable future.
Grain farmers traded in their small trucks for semi units, and headed ever farther down the blacktop to deliver their grain.
Many of the highways were not designed to handle the constant heavier loads. Highways are punched full of holes, and the coffers of the province are not deep enough to affect the steady repairs, or make the upgrades now needed.
Small communities trying to attract new residents have to now sell them on a move which may mean an obstacle course of potholes every time they leave home. It is not a selling point.
Communities and the province have been left trying to ﬁ nd the cash to ﬁ x a road system ill-suited to the system thrust upon it by business rationalization of the rail and grain collection sectors.
It’s not something that can be changed now, but the next time you bounce over a hole on a highway, remember to thank the rail companies and grain handlers before pointing the ﬁnger solely at the province.