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Wall says twinning Hwy. 39 "high priority"

It wasn't a yes, but after years of saying no to the twinning of Highways 39 and 6, the provincial government now appears open to the idea.

It wasn't a yes, but after years of saying no to the twinning of Highways 39 and 6, the provincial government now appears open to the idea.

Premier Brad Wall was in Estevan Thursday for a meeting with the members of Estevan city council and senior staff members. Following the meeting Wall addressed the media and said the twinning of the route from Estevan to Regina will soon become a high priority for his government.

The premier's comments marked a dramatic shift in attitude from the province, which for years has maintained the daily traffic volume on that roadway did not exceed their threshold for twinning.

However, a recent report from SGI has apparently forced the government to change its tune. Wall said the report included traffic projections for five and 10 years down the road.

"(The projections) just show that the very compelling need for twinning for 39 and 6 means that we must place a much higher priority on it as a government and we are going to do that," Wall said. "I am going to be asking the highways minister and the energy and the economy ministers and the SGI minister to sit down and work together on how we can move up the project, how we can move towards improving safety; how, frankly, we can move towards twinning on these highways in a much more timely way."

Aside from the SGI projections, Wall said the government has also taken into account the rising number of fatalities on the highway.

"What's important here is the safety of Saskatchewan people. It's the tragedies that we've unfortunately seen and the ones that we would like to do everything we can to avoid in the future," Wall said.

Having seen it firsthand while on his way to Estevan Thursday, Wall added that not only the volume of traffic but also the type of traffic merits consideration as well.

"What we have here is a lot of truck traffic; it's agriculture, it's oil, it's industrial. That has to inform what government is going to do. The Highway 11 twinning project is wrapping up and we are looking at what's next, and I just want to reiterate that 39 has to be a higher priority and will be," said Wall, who added that Estevan MLA Doreen Eagles and Weyburn-Big Muddy MLA Dustin Duncanhave also been strong proponents of twinning.

"Doreen is our caucus chair and I sit beside her, literally, every day of session, which gives her a chance to basically make the case. She would tell us how many trucks she had passed going home or coming here."

Wall was asked if the government might also consider passing lanes but threw water on the idea, noting that if they are going to spend millions of dollars they were better off putting it towards twinning.

"Everything is still on the table but in a general sense we would be moving towards twinning."

Wall did not provide any figures on what twinning might cost but obviously it won't be cheap. In 2009 the cost of twinning Highway 11 from Warman to Saskatoon was pegged at $124 million, however that is a much shorter route than Estevan to Regina.

Much like the Highway 11 project, Wall said the province will be looking to the federal government to share in any costs.

"This is an international area of our province just based on what is happening here economically. We share an oil formation, there is lots of cross-border traffic, we are very close to the border, obviously. So, we hope the federal government will also be a meaningful partner as we move forward with the plan to get safety improvements done, namely the twinning.

"It worked for Highway 11, it made common sense there. It makes great sense here just because of the international story that is happening here."

The issue of Highways 39 and 6 has been a hot topic in the Estevan area for a number of years but gained steam in the past few months as the number of fatalities continue to grow. The Time To Twin Highway 39 Committee has spearheaded the local lobbying effort and have an ongoing petition.

Committee co-chairwoman Marge Young said she was very happy to hear Wall's comments.

"We will be positively optimistic until we see a shovel in the ground," Young said. "It's moving in the right direction and at least we know that we are on the radar and whether it is (Wall driving Highway 39) or our petition or Heaven's Flowered Highway and people themselves contacting the MLAs or the premier, I think every little bit has helped."

Young said the petition has around 2,500 signatures. She added that each time someone signs the online petition the premier and Highways Minister Don McMorris are notified. Anyone interested in signing the petition can go to and search for the Time to Twin Petition.

The City of Estevan has also been a major backer of the twinning efforts. Councillor Greg Hoffort, who was in attendance at Thursday's meeting, was pleased to hear the premier's comments on the matter.

"It certainly is a priority and I would suggest, from what we learned, it's an increasing priority," Hoffort said. "They are looking for solutions and he will be directing his affected cabinet ministers to determine how big a priority it is and to move on. I am more encouraged than when I walked into the meeting. I think we are becoming a priority in that light as well."

While in Estevan, Wall also toured the Carbon Capture and Sequestration Project at the Boundary Dam Power Station with North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp.