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Audience favours overpass at truck route meeting

The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure presented the two new options for the heavy truck bypass around Estevan during an open house Thursday.

The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure presented the two new options for the heavy truck bypass around Estevan during an open house Thursday.

However, those in attendance were quick to present an option of their own and that could have major implications for the future of the project.

The two options, both of which dealt with how best to reconnect the $45 million bypass with Highway 39 west, were largely panned as many called on the government to include some form of an interchange or overpass. Although the government said an interchange might be constructed down the road it is not part of their immediate plans, a fact that did not sit well with the majority of the vocal audience who feel both options are unsafe.

Brent Miller, the asset manager for the ministry, said he was happy with the exchange of ideas at the meeting and noted that the desire for an interchange was made clear.

"It is great to hear from the public and their concerns," he said. "This is their livelihood that we're dealing with, so obviously they are going to be emotional and have a lot to say.

"I think it is evident what the message was here. There is a great desire for the interchange, obviously for safety reasons."

How best to intersect the truck bypass and Highway 39 west has been the bane of this project for the better part of two years. The ministry and it's consulting firm AECOM initially presented a plan that would have placed the intersection in the same location as the turn to Rafferty Dam.

However, there was a great deal of opposition to the plan. Not only was it felt the proposal was unsafe, it was also too close to the Richardson Pioneer Grain Terminal and would prevent any expansion at the site.

That sent the ministry and AECOM back to the drawing board, and what they came up with were two options that push the intersection further west of the terminal but do not alleviate many of the safety concerns that were raised about the first option, such as forcing eastbound vehicles to make a left-hand turn through oncoming traffic. The fact that vehicles exiting the bypass must also come to a dead stop at Highway 39, and then get back up to speed on the highway, was also a concern because of the heavy volume of semis that are expected to use the bypass.

In his presentation, Allan Duff of AECOM said their focus when it came to devising new options was to get the intersection away from the grain terminal.

The first option, which is preferred by Richardson Pioneer, is the furthest away from the terminal. Duff said the biggest disadvantage of that option is the cost as it is 1.6 kilometres longer than the initial option. It also creates potential for traffic conflicts with the weigh station and would have the largest impact on property owners.

"It is the most expensive option because it longer than any other option and a two lane road is roughly $2 million a kilometre," Duff said.

The second option is closer to the terminal making it less desirable for Richardson Pioneer. It is also 900 metres longer than the first plan.

Miller also spoke briefly and said moving forward, the key for the ministry is getting a route locked up. He added they want to hear as many comments as possible from the public and said those thoughts will shape their future plans.

"If we see in the comments that there is a consensus towards an option it will make things a little easier for us to make a recommendation to our minister and get the final location and planning approved," he said.

"If we find a lot of resistance with all of the options and there is not any consensus it may result in us having to go back to the drawing and have to look at other options to meet the public's needs. We are hoping we will be able to start working on a detailed design in the fall and throughout the winter and would like to position ourselves to be ready to hopefully begin construction some time in the late summer or fall."

After the presentations the audience was given a chance to speak and speak they did. Virtually every person who either asked a question or voiced an opinion said they would like to see an interchange on the west end now and not in the future.

Miller said although an interchange is desired by the audience there are many other draws on the tax dollar the ministry must keep in mind.

"There is only so much money the province has," Miller said. "It is not only about other issues with other roadways throughout the province. There are other ministries like health and education and all of these ministries have demands for money."

Kelly Lafrentz, who was a very interested party at the open house as the owner of a trucking company and the Reeve of the RM of Estevan, said the idea of building the bypass without an interchange is ludicrous and also disputed the government's cost projection of $34 million.

"That is the cost of the interchange at Lewvan and Highway 1 (in Regina) and I don't think we need an interchange quite as elaborate as that," said Lafrentz, who noted his primary concern is the safety of the intersection.

"Anytime you have a fault intersection on a busy highway, it's great in great weather but we have all kinds of snowstorms and fog and everything else. What are you going to do when there are all those trucks coming and they are stopped and turning and you've got traffic going each way? There are going to be some bad accidents there and if we can prevent that now for the sake of another $15 to 20 million in the budget, let's do this and do it right."

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