THE reopening of Highway 75 this week has reignited the debate about the need for a permanent alternative route to the United States from Winnipeg.
The Eastman Regional Development Corp., which represents business interests in eastern Manitoba, is promoting a proposal to upgrade Highway 59 -- twinning its southern stretch and rebuilding the remaining portion -- to handle big-truck traffic year-round.
But a spokesman for the Manitoba Trucking Association said the province isn't spending enough money to maintain existing highways and it would be foolish to create another north-south corridor.
The province reopened Highway 75 on Monday after Red River flooding caused it to be closed for 29 days.
Highway 59 crosses into Minnesota just south of Tolstoi -- about 23 kilometres east of the Highway 75 border crossing at Emerson. Only a small portion of Highway 59 is twinned, from the Perimeter Highway to just south of Ile des Chênes.
When flooding closes Highway 75, traffic is directed westward along Highway 3 to Winkler and then eastward along Highway 14, back to Highway 75.
Harold Taylor, general manager of Eastman, said the province should prepare to designate Highway 59 as the alternate north-south route, as interests in Minnesota want to make the road a major north-south corridor and a major border crossing.
"The Americans are prepared to do it and we should get going on it," Taylor said.
Taylor said there is enough traffic to justify twinning Highway 59 to Highway 52, which connects to Steinbach. The province has committed to upgrading three river crossings along Highway 59, he said, adding all that's necessary to make it a year-round truck route would be to upgrade the roadbed to the border.
Bob Dolyniuk, secretary of the Manitoba Trucking Association, said the industry doesn't like the Highway 3 detour, adding a better route would incorporate Highway 59 to Highway 23 north of St. Malo and then using highways 200 and 201 back to Highway 75 south of Morris.
The modified Highway 59 detour route would require upgrading only about half of the length of the highway, Dolyniuk said, but he added the smaller highways would need to be upgraded to handle big rigs.
Dolyniuk said the province has committed $4 billion over a 10-year period to upgrade highways and bridges but added that is still not enough.
Designating Highway 59 as an alternate north-south corridor would only make sense if the provincial government had unlimited financial resources, he said.
"If not, then the government has to prioritize and there isn't enough funds right now for Highway 59."
A government spokesman said the transportation department plans to keep Highway 75 as the sole north-south corridor by developing options to deal with the flooding problems in the Morris area.
Taylor said the Association of Manitoba Municipalities endorsed Highway 59 as a permanent alternate southern route. However, he said it would only make sense if both Manitoba and Minnesota acted together to ensure the highway on both sides of the border can accommodate truck traffic.
"The Americans are in favour and if we start now, we can get this done in five to six years," Taylor said.
The province says flooding has forced the closure of Highway 75 five times since 1996.
1996 -- 14 days, dates not available
1997 -- 44 days, April 20-June 3
2006 -- 18 days, April 1-18
2009 -- 36 days, April 7-May 13
2011 -- 28 days, April 18-May 16