December 14, 2019

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Government flushes away political capital by closing rest stop

Editorial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/5/2018 (569 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As budget-cutting decisions go, this announcement falls somewhere in the territory between "puzzling" and "absurd."

Actually, calling it an announcement is a bit misleading; rather, it’s a cost-saving measure the provincial government seems to have intended to implement with as little notice as possible, at a time when most people might not realize it was happening until after it had taken place.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p><p>The province is planning to close the Pinegrove rest stop this fall.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The province is planning to close the Pinegrove rest stop this fall.

Local media only became aware of the plan to shut down the Pinegrove rest area — the only public washroom facility on the Trans-Canada Highway between Winnipeg and the Ontario border — after a food-truck operator who has been stationed at the stop for many years made it known that he won’t return this year because the province informed him Pinegrove is being closed permanently.

Crown Services Minister Ron Schuler confirmed Tuesday that the province plans to close the Pinegrove rest area this fall. The minister cited the $1.6-million cost of retrofitting the facility’s sewage lagoon — which is nearing the end of its lifespan — as the rationale for the closure. He also insisted that people who travel the highway have made it clear they prefer stopping at restaurants and gas bars that offer services other than rest rooms.

The travelers interviewed at the Pinegrove stop on Tuesday — families, solo motorcyclists, truck drivers and more — would no doubt like to know who those "people" are, because Mr. Schuler’s anecdotal claim about the public not wanting a public-access rest stop seems at odds with their Pinegrove perspectives.

There are several problems with telling travellers to go to a nearby business when they have to go — first, it’s forcing them to a commercial establishment in which they’ll likely be required to spend money before being allowed to use rest-room facilities (if those businesses don’t have "for customers only" signs posted now, it’s almost certain they will once carloads of Pinegrove users start stopping by); second, it assumes that highway travellers only need to answer nature’s call during business hours, or that late-night and early-morning drivers somehow have superior bladder control to that of daytime travellers.

And third, the closure plan ignores the fact rest areas are used for more than washroom breaks; big-rig operators also use the stops to conduct safety checks on their vehicles, or to take necessary stops from driving after long stretches on the Trans-Canada route.

Even for a government intent on cutting costs and improving the province’s fiscal situation, closing the public rest stop on the national highway seems a penny-wise but pound-foolish endeavour.

Compared to other ways in which government departments can spend $1.6 million, maintaining the Pinegrove rest stop is a relative budgetary bargain. And eliminating it will carry political costs that carry far beyond the meagre balance-sheet improvement.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler

Having been robbed of the opportunity to quietly close Pinegrove after cottage season, the province is left with the unenviable task of spending the summer defending a decision that will annoy many of the thousands who travel to and from lake getaways on Highway No. 1.

From now until the leaves assume their fall colours, every trip past Pinegrove will prompt comments like, "Hey, that’s the rest stop Pallister’s shutting down." And from autumn until the next provincial election, the refrain will be adapted slightly: "Hey, that’s the rest stop Pallister shut down."

Bad plan. In this case, it’s the ill-considered decision to close the highway rest stop that needs to go.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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