Gord McKay surveyed the Friday-afternoon rush hour traffic from his perch of his Freightliner truck with a smile four lanes wide.
"This is it, rush-hour traffic," McKay beamed. "It's wide open. I've got space. It's not bumper-to-bumper. This is a gift."
McKay, a veteran of 28 years driving semi-trailers who is now an instructor with Bison Transport, was making his inaugural pass on the CentrePort Canada Way expressway, a $212-million, 9.1-kilometre stretch of highway that was officially opened to motorists Friday. Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the ribbon cutting, along with dozens of local politicians, but it was the likes of McKay who were experiencing a new era of commuting.
It was a few hours after the pomp and ceremony the rubber really hit the road on the impact of the route.
Asked how long it had been since he'd been caught in a traffic jam on the old Inkster Boulevard route that linked to the Perimeter Highway west of Winnipeg, McKay simply replied: "Yesterday.
"It was sheer volume. Just horrible to drive on."
On Friday, that same traffic, once on the CentrePort expressway, was clipping along at the 90-km/h speed limit at 4 p.m. The old two-lane Inkster route, which was an infamous bottleneck, was suddenly history.
For companies such as Bison, which dispatches two double trailer loads per hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, the arrival of the expressway will shave at least 20 minutes off each load. "Anyone not in the manufacturing or trade industries probably wouldn't get it," McKay noted. "But it's all about time. Those numbers add up."
However, that same time will be saved by the thousands of daily commuters in Winnipeg's northeast sector every workday.
The four lanes, McKay added, will do much more than eliminate congestion. "Any time you can separate traffic with a median, it's going to be safer," he said.
Indeed, for any Winnipegger who has regularly exited the city's west end via Inkster to the perimeter overpass, the expressway represents a newly unclogged artery that is a short cut that intersects the Perimeter just north of Assiniboia Downs. That's only the beginning, as the next phase of the project is to bypass the Perimeter altogether via a Headingley bypass.
"But it's one thing at a time," McKay said. "They're making progress. But I can tell you that there's going to be a lot of happy truckers today. Getting a new road is like a new toy. They'll be smiling from ear to ear.
"I'd be laughing my ass off all the way home."