Gov’t in hot seat over highway, road conditions

Gary Gilbert’s grandchildren wonder why he never drives his 1935 Ford or 1939 Oldsmobile when he comes to visit them in Regina.


“Because they won’t survive the first 20 miles,” he tells them.


The highways in the Rural Municipality of McKillop where Gilbert lives are in such rough shape that he doesn’t want to risk taking his cherished antique vehicles to the city.


Gilbert told the story to Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall and his cabinet during the bear pit session at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities’ annual convention.


“Let’s get some help here, guys,” he said.


Wall took the opportunity to get a laugh out of the crowd.


“I don’t want to be glib, but I think you said it was a Ford and an Olds-mobile?” said the premier. “I’m a Mopar guy, so maybe it’s the vehicles.”


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However, he quickly followed that comment by acknowledging the sorry state of many of Saskatchewan’s highways.


“We know we have so much more work to do with respect to roads in this province,” said Wall.


Nancy Heppner, minister of highways and infrastructure, said the government is investing a record amount every year on highways.


She said the Saskatchewan Party has been whittling away at a $1 billion deficit on road spending that it inherited from the New Democratic Party seven years ago.


“We’re not just maintaining what we have, but we’re building for tomorrow,” said Heppner.


Her legislative secretary has driven more than 14,000 kilometres of Sask-atchewan highways to identify problem areas.


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“Our lists in the ministry aren’t necessarily the same as your lists,” she told SARM delegates.


Heppner said the province will continue to upgrade the highways that are most in need of repair.


“We have a short construction season and limited dollars. Like I said, we’re getting to them when we can,” she said.


Gilbert said the two highways leading to Rowan’s Ravine Provincial Park are in terrible condition, which was brought to light when a local grocery store surveyed people who used the park.


“They thought the park was great except for the trip there and back and they will not come back, they said, just because of the roads that they have to go through.”


Wall agreed that it is important to ensure roads leading to provincial parks are in decent condition.


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“You’ve got to be able to get there. You want to be able to pull your trailer or tow your Oldsmobile there if you need to,” he said, eliciting another laugh from the SARM crowd.