At 1 p.m. Friday, hundreds of truckers -- as well as the general driving public -- got their first access to a brand-new expressway in the northwest corner of the city.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was there for the official opening of the $212-million Highway 190, also called CentrePort Canada Way.
The 9.1-kilometre, four-lane divided expressway was designed to provide a more efficient route for the truck traffic that's concentrated in the area in and out of the city.
It's anticipated the more expeditious trade route will become a magnet for development at CentrePort.
The highway connects the west Perimeter Highway with Inkster Boulevard just west of Brookside Boulevard and includes an overpass over the Canadian Pacific main line that previously crossed Inkster Boulevard, backing up traffic on a route that sees more than 18,000 trucks per week.
The new roadwork also includes an underpass for Saskatchewan Avenue and the CP Glenboro branch line under the west Perimeter and a clover leaf connection from the west Perimeter that will eventually be the site of a future Headingley bypass extension.
Harper made the announcement at the site of Fort Garry Fire Trucks' new $7-million manufacturing facility, one of 30 new businesses that have located at CentrePort since it was created four years ago.
Harper used the occasion to tout the new Canada EU free-trade agreement.
"For hard-working Canadian families to realize the full benefits of this opportunity that our government has created it is imperative that goods are able to move easily...," he said. "First, it means building up our ports, including inland ports such as CentrePort, allowing easy trans-shipment of freight between rail, road and air."
Although the expressway travels through what is mostly fields and farmland, the vision of CentrePort is that access to a trucking hub, close proximity to air cargo facilities at the airport and the eventual creation of a common-use rail facility near the CP main line will attract development of manufacturing and distribution companies to the area.
Premier Greg Selinger said the opening of CCW, in addition to the announced $250-million upgrade to Highway 75 to interstate standards, creates important efficiencies to allow goods and services to flow.
"It's about jobs and a good economy," Selinger said. "Infrastructure investments trigger good jobs for the future of Manitoba."
CentrePort officials said the highway is needed to aid industrial development in the area.
Diane Gray, the president and CEO of CentrePort Canada, said the 90-kilometre per hour expressway is an "absolutely critical piece of the infrastructure needs" for CentrePort and opens up the internal lands of the 8,093-hectare inland port north and east of the Winnipeg airport for development.
Gray is now focused on the next piece of development -- a common-use rail facility close to the Canadian Pacific main line that will allow rail-intensive users to effectively link in to Canadian National and BNSF's rail lines as well.
The province recently transferred 302 hectares of land to CentrePort for it to develop the rail facility. Gray said that project is moving ahead on several different fronts and she expects it to be operational in the next two years.
A Headingley bypass and eastern extension eventually linking CentrePort Canada Way with Chief Peguis Trail have been planned, but there is no firm date as to when those new roadways will be constructed.
The trucking industry has enthusiastically supported the new expressway. Bob Dolyniuk, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association, said close to 70 per cent of the city's trucking companies and truck-service businesses are located in the Brookside area.
"So whether they are doing local work or doing long haul, trucks are moving around here," Dolyniuk said. "They have had to use highway 221 (Inkster Boulevard), which is a single-lane highway and was certainly not the safest. CentrePort Canada Way will be miles and miles above that as far as safety and efficiency is concerned."