Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Forty years of white-knuckle driving on No. 6

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Your editorial of Aug. 27, Manitoba's highway of death, regarding Highway 6, touched on something that has disturbed many northerners for decades.

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Years ago my friend's father broke his neck in a car accident on Highway 6. My former housekeeper's son was returning from university and became a paraplegic in an accident. Good friends of ours rolled their car near Grand Rapids, but were OK.

An old business friend was in an awful accident south of Thompson that required the jaws of life to remove him. I know more than 25 people who have been killed, paralyzed and been in accidents on Highway 6. How many people do you know who have been in accidents on one highway?

People in northern Manitoba have been driving to Winnipeg and back on Highway 6 since 1972. It's the only road out for the communities of Thompson, Gillam, Lynn Lake, Leaf Rapids, Norway House, Cross Lake, Split Lake, Nelson House and Wabowden. When the Conservatives were in government 10 years ago, they spent next to nothing on Highway 6 improvements. The NDP deserve credit for making tremendous improvements over the past five years. Yet more improvements for public safety are overdue.

On several occasions my wife and I counted all the semi-trailers travelling the highway between Thompson and Winnipeg. It's usually between 70 and 80. A friend counted 98 on another trip. For an eight-hour trip, that's 10 times an hour you are passing a semi going your way or meeting one from the other direction.

In winter, with snow falling or loose snow at the edge of the road, that's 10 times every hour that a driver may be blinded for seconds by swirling snow.

Winter's short days and night driving with icy road conditions multiply the risk. Travel along No. 6 can be a stressful, white-knuckled eight-hour trip each time.

A few years ago, Manitoba allowed Rocky Mountain doubles to travel Highway 6. The Manitoba Trucking Association argued it was necessary to use double-length trailers for economies of cost.

As a business person, I understand. But who speaks for the safety of the public? I believe Saskatchewan only allows doubles on divided highways. Why is their reasoning different than Manitoba's? Saskatchewan has many single-lane highways with paved shoulders.

Highway 6 still has many miles of shoulders that are too narrow to park on safely. Parked vehicles protrude into the travel lane. I've had to brake quickly when I saw that oncoming traffic would meet me near a parked vehicle and realized the highway is not wide enough for three of us.

Individuals, families and school teams travel No. 6 to Winnipeg each winter for sporting events, medical and shopping trips and holidays. Sometimes the trips can be plain scary. I know many people who refuse to drive to Winnipeg in winter for this reason.

Regardless of what the province says -- "its analysis shows this highway is no more dangerous than other comparable roads in Manitoba," according to your editorial -- I invite someone to do an independent study.

Considering how much revenue the province generates from the North in mining taxes and hydro revenue, there is no reason why the main highway to Thompson and beyond cannot be improved with wide shoulders, paved shoulders and passing lanes. As Manitobans living in the North, we deserve no less.

Volker Beckmann


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2011 A13

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