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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News

 

Twinning 39 Highway

Posted 2/12/14 (Wed)

Several years ago there was a proposal out there to four-lane U.S. Highway 52 from the Canadian border to Minot.

A meeting was held in Kenmare with people from North Dakota and Saskatchewan in attendance. A number of items were discussed and the idea got a lukewarm response, primarily because of cost.

So the idea disappeared, at least for a while.

In the past couple of years, there’s been a much bigger push on the Canadian side to have Provincial Highway 39 four-laned from Moose Jaw to the international boundary.

Part of that highway already is four-leaned, or twinned, as it’s called in Saskatchewan. But several miles southeast of Moose Jaw, there’s a fork that takes you either south toward the border or north toward Regina.

From that point south, and I believe it is near the town of Roleau, 39 Highway as they call it, is a two-lane road.

The big push for this highway to be “twinned” is primarily because of recent traffic fatalities.

Southern Saskatchewan has seen a dramatic shift in commerce in recent years and has seen plenty of oil development in and around the Weyburn area.

Eventually, it prompted grassroots organizations to get together and begin the process of lobbying for the highway to be improved.

Several months ago Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was in Estevan announcing the province of Saskatchewan was setting aside funding, not all at once mind you, but earmarking money to begin the process of “twinning” 39 Highway.

The latest report on CJME radio in Regina stated the beginning of this project has already begun on a small, east-west stretch of that highway from Bienfait to Estevan, approximately 10 miles.

Estevan to Roleau is 112 miles and on this side of Bienfait is roughly 10 miles to the boundary at North Portal.

So there is a lot of territory to cover and this highway isn’t going to get four-laned overnight.

But, as Brad Wall said in his Estevan press conference, “we’ll see where it leads in three years.”

What does this mean for North Dakota?

For starters, traffic on U.S. 52 has already increased dramatically in the past five years. On any given day, you can see vehicles from Ontario, Colorado, Montana, Alberta and numerous vehicles with Alaska license plates.

When Canadians travel across country, they often take routes to Minot and make their east-west connection on U.S. Highway 2 or I-94 in Bismarck.

That said, when Highway 39 is four-laned, more Canadian travelers are going make plans to take that route since there is a 24-hour port of entry at Portal, thus additional traffic on U.S. 52.

The other thing to keep in mind is that since the Canadian dollar reached par with the U.S. dollar and has now slid back a little bit, more people from Saskatchewan are traveling to Minot for shopping, a weekend getaway in the states, a sporting event or even to visit relatives.

Back in the mid 1980s, the province of Manitoba completed its four-lane project of Provincial Highway 75 from south of Winnipeg to the border at Pembina.

Shortly thereafter it was like a flood of Canadians in Grand Forks and Fargo. And if you think about it, the Canadian dollar in 1990 was worth about 70 cents, so despite a weak dollar, they still traveled to Grand Forks to shop.

In recent years, Grand Forks has embraced the Canadian dollar. It is now responsible for a good portion of a brisk retail and hospitality trade.

We can probably see that scenario developing in Minot, maybe on a smaller scale, but if loonies suddenly start showing up around town, not to mention additional U.S. dollars, what do you think?

One other thing to consider is when Highway 39 gets completed, there will be four-lane road from the U.S. border at Portal to Edmonton, and points west well into British Columbia.

In that respect, the highway becomes an attractive route option for people traveling to and from Alaska.

The only problem with that is there remains an 80-mile stretch from Portal to Brooks Ranch (where U.S. 52 meets U.S. 2) that remains two lanes.

It would behoove us in North Dakota to consider this option if for no other reason than traffic safety. Granted, there aren’t a lot of accidents on this portion of U.S. 52, but as the number of vehicles increase to do the chances of accidents.