Work starts to twin last undivided Trans-Canada
Preliminary steps taken on deadly 20-km stretch to Ontario border
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Tree-clearing and other preliminary work is underway as Manitoba moves forward with a years-long, multimillion-dollar plan to twin the province’s last remaining undivided section of the Trans-Canada Highway.
One of the initial stages will align Manitoba’s side of the highway with Ontario’s twinning project, which began in June 2022, after more than a decade of talks.
The twinning of a nearly 20-kilometre stretch in Manitoba is still years away due, in part, to study and design work that will help to identify the optimal route, according to the government’s latest timelines.
“That’s going to be a very ambitious project because there’s a lot of Canadian Shield to work with,” Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk said Friday.
The Manitoba government has not yet set a target for completing the project nor an estimated cost. The plan, intended to improve safety and reduce travel times, is part of a national trade strategy.
Sacha Harder is among the South Whiteshell residents who feel the twinning of the 20-km section is overdue.
“It definitely needs to get done. The highway is a bit of a death trap,” said Harder, who co-owns Tallpine Lodges at West Hawk Lake, about 140 km east of Winnipeg. “It will be very welcome. There’s a lot more traffic on the road than there used to be.”
Harder said any disruption caused by lengthy construction would be “tolerated” because it’s for a greater purpose. “I’m just curious as to how they’re actually going to twin it.”
Some spots along the existing highway, she noted, are between lakes and narrow.
Peter Lugli, whose brother Mark and nephew Jacob died in a head-on crash on the undivided section in July 2019, was pleased to learn of the progress.
The province committed to widening the highway after the Lugli family and other highway users called for improvements in a series of Free Press articles last year.
“Obviously, all of us, and those of us with family and friends in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario, all win with a speedier completion,” said Lugli, who lives in the United States. “It will be great when the next concrete step — shovels in the ground — actually takes place.
“It’ll be a relief to anyone in that area and those who travel through that stretch to see the inevitable ‘road under construction’ signage, with timing commitments on those signs.”
Mark, 54, and Jacob Lugli, 17, were on their way to Selkirk from their home in Dryden, Ont., when a tractor-trailer driver swerved into their lane while trying to avoid a rear-end collision.
Nine people were killed in collisions on the undivided highway between 2000 and 2020, the province wrote in response to a freedom of information request Peter Lugli submitted last year.
A spokeswoman for Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure said the province is working with Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation on highway alignment at the provincial boundary.
Tree-clearing and other activities which began last week are due to finish by April 1, with more work to be completed by the fall of 2024.
Piwniuk said it includes twinning of a nearly one-km section.
Ontario is planning to divide its section of the Trans-Canada from the provincial boundary to the Kenora area.
It is hoping to complete the first phase — six km of twinned lanes from the provincial boundary to Highway 673 — by the end of 2024.
The phase has an estimated cost of up to $50 million, according to a list of projects in progress.
MTI is reviewing proposals for a conceptual design study for the twinning project, the spokeswoman said.
She said the study is expected to be completed in two years once a contract is awarded, with a functional design study to follow.
The government said it will consult Indigenous rights holders during the studies.
Piwniuk said Manitoba is looking to mirror parts of Ontario’s project to reduce the timeline.
The provinces could submit joint applications for federal funding as the neighbouring projects progress, according to the minister.
“If we do it together, I think we get more attention,” he said.
Among other projects in its five-year capital plan, MTI is going to add passing lanes and twin a 1.5-km section of Highway 6 between the Perimeter Highway and Grosse Isle.
The Safer Highway 6 Citizens Advisory Group, which met with Piwniuk last year, wants more passing lanes and wider shoulders on the northern part of the route, which links Winnipeg and Thompson.
“A lot of times in winter, people are scared to drive that road,” said group member and Thompson businessman Volker Beckmann.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Saturday, March 18, 2023 9:19 AM CDT: Adds photos