A rough ride on Manitoba’s highways


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Few things say “I’m home” like crossing the border on Highway 75, our main route to and from the U.S. The landscape doesn’t change dramatically, but the ride sure does. There are sections of Highway 75 that are bone-jarring.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/07/2019 (1176 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Few things say “I’m home” like crossing the border on Highway 75, our main route to and from the U.S. The landscape doesn’t change dramatically, but the ride sure does. There are sections of Highway 75 that are bone-jarring.

That’s not surprising, since almost half of Manitoba’s highways are past their “best-before” date, at more than 50 years old. Our bridges are in similar condition — some are 90 years old.

But it is particularly distressing because of the importance of this conduit. Like the Trans-Canada Highway, Highway 75 is a major trade artery for Manitoba. Emerson sees about $18 billion in trade traffic annually, more than any other land-border crossing in Western Canada.

Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press files A bus rolls along Highway 75. What vehicles on Manitoba’s primary north-south route experience is much different than what they encounter across the Canada-U.S. border on I-29.

Why? Why is North Dakota’s I-29 a pleasure to drive, but Highway 75 is a test of your vehicle’s shocks? It’s not because of the weather, nor the ground, really. It’s about money — the money you invest in the ground.

There are other highways that need some budget love, too. More each year, in fact, because the budget has tumbled precipitously in the past three years.

In 2015-16, the previous government’s last highways capital program’s actual expenditure was $628 million. The budget for 2018, and again for 2019, was set at $350 million.

A conservative estimate is that the highways budget should be $500 million per year. But there’s also the investment required to upgrade for safety, to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and to elevate Manitoba as a global trade competitor. In total, insiders say that would push the budget nearer $800 million a year.

We are sitting (driving) on a $9-billion investment deficit for our provincial roads and bridges.

Manitobans are feeling the pain. Bill Campbell, president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers, said recently in this paper that bad roads are limiting where farmers truck their products for processing. That makes farming more expensive, which hikes the cost of food.

On July 9, the province had to close Provincial Road 246, washed out just south of Aubigny. This is also the planned detour route for Highway 75, which itself is subject to potential closure each spring due to seasonal flooding.

Statistics Canada’s infrastructure report card says fully a third of Manitoba’s main highways and half the collector routes are in poor or very poor condition. Arteries and collectors are the major trade routes in municipalities, but provincial road funding to municipalities has also been cut.

These reductions result in lost economic growth. For decades, successive provincial governments have “lived off the system” without replenishing it. They have ignored the foundation upon which our economy and our standard of living (read: social programs) are built.

Economic growth pivots on trade, which supports more than half our GDP, and trade rides on roads. Manitoba is at the centre of Canada, the heart of the continent. We headquarter Canada’s largest freight-trucking companies. We are home to CentrePort Canada, the nation’s first inland port; CentrePort Canada Way helped trigger almost $700 million in private-sector investment. Some 240,000 jobs (direct and indirect) are linked to our trade profile.

We cannot afford to hold the highways capital budget at $350 million — as is apparently and alarmingly the plan for the next five years — if we want the economic growth necessary to sustain funding of our health, education and other coveted services.

Like Duff Roblin did in his day, we need leaders who will champion our core infrastructure system by shaping the vision and guiding its execution.

So, here’s our challenge to the PC, NDP and Liberal party leaders in the election campaign: What is your plan? How do you propose to tackle Manitoba’s $9-billion investment deficit for roads and bridges?

We’ll be contacting you soon to ask, so voters know where you stand. We ask all Manitobans to make sure candidates talk about the condition of roads when they knock on your doors in the run-up to the September election.

Chris Lorenc is president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association and Western Canada Roadbuilders & Heavy Construction Association.

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