The Selinger government will outline its long-awaited plan to keep Highway 75 high and dry during "modest" flood years in today's throne speech.
The plan involves raising sections of the twinned highway and moving where the Morris River drains into the Red River, Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said in an interview before the speech.
The long-term project will also be one of several the government will help pay for, using revenue from its increase to the provincial sales tax.
"We are definitely moving ahead on Highway 75 on the flood-protection side," Ashton said. "We're significantly along in terms of the technical work."
Ashton said the need to improve the highway, which connects the province to Interstate 29 in North Dakota at Emerson, comes as the Centreport Canada inland port northwest of the airport nears completion.
Centreport's 8,093 hectares are designed to be a trade zone with the world, linking air, rail, and truck routes to move goods shipped by air from Latin America, Asia, and Europe into the United States and east and west in Canada.
For Centreport to prosper, Highway 75 needs to stay open -- only a major flood on par with 1997's would close it down, as flooding on that scale would also close I-29.
"Even during modest flooding there has been extended closures at Morris," Ashton said. "It's always been part of the vision to move to interstate standards. What it's going to do is significantly reduce the number of days it's closed. In fairly modest flood years you won't see weeks of closures."
Ashton described a modest flood year as 2011.
The Manitoba Trucking Association has estimated it costs the trucking industry an additional $1.5 million for every week Highway 75 is closed because of a longer detour -- which results in price increases for shippers and consumers.
Ashton also said work to raise the highway will not be cheap, but, "We've got the resources to back it up with the one cent on the dollar sales tax increase."
Engineering and technical work on the project is ongoing.
When the government sprung the tax increase in last April's budget, raising it one point to eight per cent, Premier Greg Selinger said proceeds from the tax hike would go into the new Manitoba Building and Renewal Fund to spend on critical infrastructure, including anything from an expansion to a hospital, university or personal-care home to a repaved highway or massive new flood protection for Lake Manitoba.
The tax increase is timed to a limit of 10 years that allows the province to also tap dollar-for-dollar into the new federal Building Canada Fund program.
Manitoba's share of the previous version of the Building Canada Fund was about $500 million and was used for projects including finishing the Red River Floodway expansion and the Waverley West arterial road. The most recent project is the expansion of the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg.
Today's throne speech will also focus on how the NDP will meet its commitment to create 75,000 jobs by 2020 through new education and job-training measures.
Opposition Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister has described that target as meaningless.
"It's fine to make great pronouncements about job creation, but what they are proposing to do is create jobs by taking the job-creating ability away from the consumers in our province," he said last week. "The No. 1 thing that will allow us to grow our economy is a higher discretionary income. What the government is doing is taking tools away from them by jacking up taxes."
Ashton also said a "flood-proofed" Highway 75 will allow the speed limit to be extended to 110 km/h on most sections, except where it passes through Morris. "Once we go to interstate standards it does also allow for an increase in the speed limit," he said.
While some have suggested the highway be built around the west of Morris, Ashton said that's not feasible. Instead, the plan involves building a channel to divert the Morris River around Morris into the Red River farther north of town. Such a diversion would eliminate the almost yearly occurrence of the swollen Morris River flowing over the Morris Bridge, which forces officials to close the highway.
"You pretty well have to treat the hydraulic end of it because there is really nowhere to bypass. It's hugely problematic. There really isn't a road solution entirely. It's got to be a hydraulic solution. You also have to be very careful about aggravating flood situations in surrounding areas," Ashton said.