Sask. eases road restrictions

Heavier loads | Weight limits raised for agricultural trucking

Saskatchewan has eased seasonal weight restrictions on some of its provincial highways and expects rural municipalities will follow suit.

The decision was made in light of the current grain backlog.

Highways minister Don McMorris said farmers and shippers can apply immediately to the ministry’s district offices for permission to haul heavier weights but only for agricultural products.

“Some of the grain has moved; a lot of grain has to move yet,” he said March 26.

“In light of grain movement issues, we are going to demonstrate flexibility in the enforcement of spring road restrictions.”

McMorris said he expects permits to be approved when heavier loads won’t damage roads, such as during cold weather. He said the approval should take only a day.

The restrictions are typically placed on roads not built to primary or secondary weight standards, including gravel roads under provincial control and most RM roads. They usually prescribe a 15 percent reduction on haul weights.

McMorris said 14,600 kilometres of highway are not subject to road bans because they are built to that higher standard.

However, there are more than 5,000 km of thin membrane surface roads, which account for 19 percent of the highway system but carry less than six percent of overall volume because of poor bases.

Some of those, including two this year, will be converted to super grid roads under a pilot project.

These roads will be wider and built to carry primary weight. The sections include 31 km of Highway 361 from the junction of Highway 9 east to Alida and 5.5 km of Highway 47 north of Stoughton.

Dennis Hull, a councillor in the RM of Reciprocity, said local residents would be happy to learn their road was selected for the upgrade.

“It’s been in bad shape, I would say, for over 20 years and it’s getting worse and worse,” he said.

Hull said part of the road was never paved and part was thin membrane surface. He said thin membrane surface roads become worse than a good gravel road when they go bad.

Traffic counts in the area are about 180 vehicles per day, including heavy grain and oil vehicles, but Hull said that isn’t a true picture of what could travel the route. Many drivers use RM roads to avoid the rough highway, which increases road maintenance costs.

McMorris said it costs $400,000 per km to turn a road into a super grid, which involves removing the thin surface and engineering a proper base. It is about half the cost of rebuilding and paving.

He said this type of repair is not simply allowing a thin membrane surface road to deteriorate and then applying a little gravel.

“What we’re doing is starting more or less from scratch.”

McMorris said there was more demand for the pilot project than there was money available, and he expects more could be allocated next year.