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Twinning plans aired at open houses

The options were laid out to the public this past winter during three open house sessions.
Highway open house, Midale
A bypass around Weyburn is one of the details being suggested as part of the project to add two divided lanes to Highway 6 and 39.

The options were laid out to the public this past winter during three open house sessions. Last week the Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure brought the results of those information gathering events back to the people who will be most affected by an ambitious highway twinning project.

The information was delivered through another series of open house events in the communities of Milestone, Weyburn and Midale with the Midale session on April 2 being the final one in the latest series.

“We received the feedback from the public during the winter, and now we’re presenting the recommended options that have come from the public and the consultants on the project,” said Doug Wakabayashi, spokesman for the Highways and Infrastructure ministry.

The objective is to make Highway 39 and Highway 6 south of Regina a four-lane express route from the busy border station in North Portal to the outskirts of the Queen City. The route will take most of the commercial traffic through or around the cities of Estevan and Weyburn as well as other communities such as Yellow Grass, Milestone, Midale, Macoun and Halbrite.

“The first big question was what side we were going to build the extra lanes?” said Wakabayashi.

That turned out to be south of the current two-lane highway, since in several instances, the CP Rail tracks were just too close to the highway on the north side to allow an additional two lanes as well as a 30-metre buffer boulevard in between.

“The next review will provide even more details and that should be accomplished by the end of spring,” Wakabayashi said.

“After that, the functional plans will roll out.”

Wakabayashi said twinning projects for Highways 7 and 16 in and around Saskatoon will not negatively impact the southeast Sask. project.

“Twinning is a significant trend now and all kinds of things will have to factor in, such as safety and collision histories.”

The Highway 39 and 6 project received a modest $1.2 million for planning in the recent Saskatchewan budget which is enough to give the design teams the opportunity to advance the project to the next stage in 2015.

It was also pointed out that a small stretch of the twinning project, a busy piece of Highway 39 between the Bienfait turn-off and Estevan, has already been planned and mapped out and will have a start to construction this year with $7.6 million in the budget to accommodate that part of the program.

The second phase is the major stretch between Estevan and Regina while the third phase which will be lesser in scope, will see the four-lane connection between North Portal and the Bienfait corner.

“It’s just nicely started, here while the functional plans are coming out for Highways 7 and 16,” said Wakabayashi.

The consultant’s team that included Paul Steel of Tetra Tech, have drawn up the recommended options for the highway and it now includes a significant bypass around Weyburn as well as minor bypasses around Midale, Yellow Grass, Milestone and Halbrite.

“Of course there were some concerns. There always will be with projects of this size. There is no alignment that can be offered that won’t negatively impact someone, whether it be some businesses, a farmer or two or other residents. We saw that with the Estevan truck route proposal,” Wakabayashi added.

The Highway 39 and 6 project is not far enough along to include a cost analysis. That comes later with the higher level planning sessions when the team can bring some more precise cost estimates to the table.

“But so far, no big surprises. They kind of knew there would be a problem with the tracks,” said Wakabayashi, a fact that was confirmed by Matthew Stephenson, senior project manager.

The southeast twinning project made it to the highways priority files in 2013, the team said, and thus the rather rapid movement toward the first-phase Bienfait corner to Estevan connection. The project has a qualified and steady progress plan for each planning stage for the four-lane highways that link major United States shipping and commercial centres to their Western Canadian counterparts.