With trucks whizzing behind him where the Perimeter Highway meets St. Mary’s Road, provincial Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler announced Monday morning the province will soon construct a new interchange at the intersection.
Schuler said the thoroughfare is not only one of Manitoba’s most essential from a trade standpoint, but it’s also one of its busiest, with an average of 30,000 vehicles passing through each day, and as many as 52,000 at its peak.
Over the thrum of the 10 a.m. traffic, Schuler said the road had become a major concern from a safety perspective, and he hoped the new interchange — set to begin construction in 2021 and to be finished by 2023 — would make it safer.
The intersection at St. Mary’s is currently an at-grade intersection with traffic signals, but even so, Schuler said there are frequent collisions and constant congestion.
The province is expecting a safety review and functional study to be complete by the fall, but Schuler said the government was going ahead of schedule with the interchange project, in part in an effort to "get Manitobans back to work."
The province already had plans to build the interchange before the novel coronavirus pandemic, but its funding will now be drawn from the $500-million Manitoba Restart program. Schuler said the project would be listed on MERX — a government contract site — Tuesday, but didn’t say what its cost would be.
Within the $500 million, approximately $65 million is earmarked for highway projects such as the interchange. A design-build process will be used, the minister said.
Schuler pointed to the corner of St. Mary’s and the Perimeter Highway, telling reporters the intersection was a particularly dangerous spot.
He also said the prevalence of mud roads and non-signalized crossing points was an "unmitigated disaster," and the province eventually wanted to remove all those points to build the South Perimeter Highway to the same standards as a freeway.
While safety was a key concern, Schuler reiterated the perimeter highway’s role as a trade route, specifically in relation to the U.S. He said a goal of the new interchange will be to make the route more efficient and reliable for both domestic and international trade.
"As part of the Trans-Canada Highway, the South Perimeter Highway is one of Manitoba’s most important trade corridors and plays a strategic role as it also connects with PTH 75, our major route to the United States," Schuler said earlier in a news release.
"A new interchange will improve reliability and efficiency of Canada’s international and inter-provincial trade flows and support the growth of our economy."
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
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Updated on Monday, June 29, 2020 at 2:54 PM CDT: adds quotes, updated info
June 30, 2020 at 8:55 AM: Adds byline
9:39 AM: Corrects references to the Perimeter Highway