Manitoba highways a danger zone Truckers, commuters concerned about snow clearing; high number of closures

One of the most treacherous winters in years has forced the province to close twice as many highways and roads than it did last year, sparking frustration among Manitoba truckers and commuters.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/03/2022 (334 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One of the most treacherous winters in years has forced the province to close twice as many highways and roads than it did last year, sparking frustration among Manitoba truckers and commuters.

Fifty-three provincial routes have been shut down this season, a jump from 22 in 2020-21 and 31 in 2019-20, Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure statistics show.

Stretches of the Trans-Canada Highway, particularly between Headingley and Portage la Prairie, and Brandon and the Saskatchewan boundary, have closed multiple times due to conditions that put drivers and emergency services personnel in danger.

The Perimeter Highway around Winnipeg has closed five times in a season blighted by frequent blizzards, blowing snow, freezing rain, and dramatic temperature swings which have caused ice to form.

Scott McDonald photo

“It’s been like none other,” Headingley-based Cpl. Richard Janzen, from the Manitoba RCMP traffic service, said about the number of closures. “The last time I can remember something like this happening is 1997.”

That was a winter of heavy snowfall that resulted in the “flood of the century” in southern Manitoba that spring.

When it comes to closing a highway in collaboration with the provincial highways department, police take a “common sense” approach and consider the conditions, the potential for them to get worse and the number of calls for service, he said.

Strong winds and snow have led to many of the closures, said Janzen.

After taking calls from concerned members, the Manitoba Trucking Association reached out to the province to discuss possible improvements to keep highways clear of snow and ice, and to improve safety, said executive director Aaron Dolyniuk.

“There have been cases this winter where very low temperatures and high winds have resulted in sand being blown off the roadway.”
– Spokesperson for the province

The association wants to discuss the frequency of plowing and sanding, how snow is piled near highways and if fences or tree lines could help to stop blowing snow from accumulating, he said.

“It’s one of the worst years in memory (for closures),” said Dolyniuk. “Kudos to all the front-line truck drivers who keep goods moving on our behalf in all weather.”

When a highway closes for hours, stranded truckers keep their rigs idling to stay warm, he said.

It means diesel fuel is being wasted at a time when prices have soared to record highs. Lengthy delays can result in goods arriving late.

Road closures

The following highways are now closed due to poor winter driving conditions:

Highway 1, from Winnipeg City Limits to Headingley

Highway 10, from Minnedosa to Riding Mountain National Park,

Highway 16, from Highway 10 to Fox Warren,

Highway 21, from Oakburn to Highway 24,

Highway 45, from Highway 10 to Rossburn.

Please note: Closure gates and/or variable message signs may not be present at closure locations.

For the latest highway closures, visit www.manitoba511.ca

“Sitting there idling is very expensive,” said Dolyniuk.

It’s been a challenge for Manitoba’s fleet of about 340 plows, trucks, graders and loaders to keep up with changing weather conditions.

“Strong winds and drifting snow have made it even more difficult to keep the roads in safe condition and require (transportation) staff to often repeat snow clearing, salting and sanding on the most travelled routes,” a spokesperson for the province said. “Additionally, the temperature has been mostly below the threshold where salt can effectively melt snow and ice.”

Salt isn’t as effective when the temperature drops below -18 C. Sand is used at lower temperatures to increase traction.

“There have been cases this winter where very low temperatures and high winds have resulted in sand being blown off the roadway,” the spokesperson said. “Applying salt when there is strong ground drifting or heavy snow will cause the snow to stick and crust on the road, which can form more ice or heavy ruts.”

Drivers had to contend with disruption Tuesday when the Perimeter was closed and the Trans-Canada was shut down between Headingley and Portage most of the afternoon and evening due to ice and poor visibility.

Two multi-vehicle crashes occurred on the Trans-Canada’s eastbound lanes between Elie and the St. Francois Xavier turnoff around 12 p.m., as the weather rapidly deteriorated.

“The highway could be clear in Saskatchewan with the same weather, and you enter Manitoba and all of a sudden it’s snow-covered with ice patches.”
– Brooke deBruin

In one incident, five vehicles collided with a tractor-trailer that had jackknifed, said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Paul Manaigre.

A marked RCMP vehicle at one of the scenes was rear-ended, said Janzen, who urged motorists to drive according to the conditions, check the Manitoba 511 website and travel with an emergency kit and fully charged cellphone.

Several drivers had to steer into the ditch to avoid colliding with vehicles stopped on the Trans-Canada, said Manaigre.

One of them was Brooke deBruin, an eyewear sales rep who drives all over Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario for work, which has been disrupted by poor weather and closures.

SUPPLIED Eyeglass sales rep Brooke deBruin, who spends her days driving all over Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario.

“I’m constantly changing my schedule based on the weather,” she said.

As she travelled to Yorkton, Sask., on Thursday, the Winnipegger said she noticed a difference when she crossed provincial boundaries.

“The highway could be clear in Saskatchewan with the same weather, and you enter Manitoba and all of a sudden it’s snow-covered with ice patches,” she said.

Jeff Murphy, who owns Kitson’s Service Station in Portage, can receive up to 50 calls for help when roads and highways become hazardous. They mostly involve collisions, rollovers and cars in ditches.

“I can’t remember having this bad of a winter with everything — snow, wind and cold,” said Murphy, whose garage has a 24-hour emergency towing service.

Hotels in Portage filled up while Highway 1 was closed Tuesday, so the city began preparing to open an emergency shelter at a seniors centre, said Mayor Irvine Ferris. It wasn’t needed, after the highway reopened late at night.

Manaigre said the RCMP received reports of 51 collisions across southern Manitoba on Tuesday. An eight-car pileup on McGillivray Boulevard sent three people to hospital.

Since Jan. 1, Manitoba Public Insurance has received about 35,000 preliminary collision counts, up from 20,000 in the same period last year, said spokesman Brian Smiley.

Drivers in parts of southern Manitoba had to contend with another bout of flurries and poor visibility Thursday. Blowing snow was expected to continue Friday morning.

In an advisory, Environment Canada urged travellers to check highway conditions before leaving and drive with caution.

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

History

Updated on Thursday, March 10, 2022 8:57 PM CST: Adds factbox

Updated on Thursday, March 10, 2022 9:49 PM CST: Adds highway 1 closure to factbox

Updated on Friday, March 11, 2022 9:37 AM CST: Fixes typo

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