The opposition New Democrats turned their attention to the state of the province's roads as the spring session of the legislature wound down this week.
The government has come under heavy fire over road conditions, with both Opposition leader Dwain Lingenfelter and Battlefords MLA Len Taylor stepping up their attacks on the Brad Wall government over the highways issue.
Taylor took the provincial government to task in the legislature in an exchange with highways minister Jim Reiter May 16
"Right across Saskatchewan motorists are finding that broken pavement, more surface failures as the government now refers to them, more safety problems than ever before. How is it that the minister can say they are spending more money than ever before, but the highway system is in worse shape than it's ever been before?" asked Taylor.
Reiter acknowledged spring runoff this year has been a factor in the condition of the highways, noting there has been "extra moisture even in areas that don't have flooding freezing and the expanding of the water in the surface cracks, has caused a large amount of potholes.
"The premise of that question is just wrong, Mr. Speaker," Reiter added. "Our government has made highways a priority. When we ran in election in 2007, we committed that if we were given the privilege of forming government that we would spend $1.8 billion on highways over a four-year term. Mr. Speaker, with this budget we will have far exceeded that platform commitment. We'll have spent $2.2 billion on highways highways are a priority to this government and they will continue to be so."
Taylor later roasted the government for inaction on highway 378.
"The people along Highway 378 have not expected four years of neglect under the Sask. Party government. The minister wants the people of Saskatchewan to applaud his spending, and yet the roads and highways are in worse shape than ever.
In the economy committee the other night when the minister was defending his budget estimates, he talked about the public's insatiable demand for highway work, and he asked people to have patience. There's only so much patience a person can endure. Can the minister outline his plan for getting the work done, for financing the work that needs to be done, and his plan for helping people get to work, get to school, and get to their doctors appointments safely and on time?"
Reiter responded that the "whole premise of the argument is just simply wrong. We understand that there are a lot of highways that need to get fixed in this province. We inherited a massive infrastructure deficit from the members opposite do we have a lot of work to do? You bet we do. But we made a good start, and we're going to continue."
Reiter also later took Taylor to task for comments made in the legislature March 28, when Taylor was quoted as speaking of Highway 378 receiving "virtually no support over 40 years."
"That would include 16 years of NDP [New Democratic Party] neglect," quipped Reiter.
Taylor and Reiter also had an exchange on the issue of area roads during the standing committee on the economy May 3, with Taylor raising questions about the stretch of Highway 4 between North Battleford and Glaslyn,
Taylor contends that stretch of road is seeing heavy highway damage and safety issues due to increased traffic caused by the closure of the Meadow Lake to Speers railway line.
"So all that traffic is running into North Battleford, through North Battleford to the railway line, and it's creating no end of havoc," said Taylor.
Reiter responded, however, that "as far as any sort of imminent construction project though for that stretch of highway, there's none planned right now. But obviously your point's well taken. With extra truck traffic, it's going to do more damage, and likely it would cause a construction problem sooner than it would have otherwise, obviously. But there's no imminent construction project planned for that stretch."
His response prompted a news release to be issued by Taylor's office Tuesday in which it was pointed out that Reiter's response "confirmed there is no funding for either highway" this year, referring to Highways 4 and 378, and also "that there is no internal planning for either highway."
Those are not the only roads the NDP have concerns with. In speaking to the Regional Optimist May 13, Opposition leader Dwain Lingenfelter once again raised his concerns about conditions across the province, particularly noting the situation in the central and southeast regions.
He pointed to the highways north of Regina as particular problem areas, all the way up to Prince Albert. He described "particularly bad stretches" on Number 6 north of Regina, where he said there are "potholes as big as a car."
Lingenfelter also pointed to Highways 22, 35, 12 and 40 as other problem areas.
He said his main concern is with the highway infrastructure, which he said is not only a safety issue but an issue for trucking and commerce.
"In all my years in politics I've never seen them (highways) in worse shape," Lingenfelter said.