Sask. Opposition calls on province for long-term solution to Hwy 123

Highway 123 is the only road in or out of the Cumberland House community. Courtesy of Veronica Favel

The leadership of the Saskatchewan NDP is calling for a long-term solution from the provincial government to Highway 123 after Cumberland House declared a state of emergency.

Highway 123 is the only road that goes in and out of the northern village and residents describe the highway as the “ugliest road” due to 97 kilometres of potholes and ruts.

“We’ve been addressing this to the Minister of Highways for the past seven years,” said Cumberland House Mayor Ferlin McKay in a previous interview. “They have been neglecting (on) what we’ve been asking … I don’t know if they don’t care, or it falls on deaf ears.”

On Monday, opposition leader Carla Beck was accompanied by Cumberland MLA Doyle Vermette, and Highways Critic Trent Wotherspoon for a long-term solution days after Cumberland House declared a state of emergency.

“(Local leaders) rightly feel that the government is not doing everything it can or should to address this very serious situation,” said Beck. “People in this community should have access to a safe road that connects them to the rest of the province … action is needed today.

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Wotherspoon said the province cut the northern highway’s budget by $16 million, which he calls an “incredibly shortsighted and damaging move.”

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“This government needs to deploy road builders and resources to ensure the safety of the road by working with local leadership in the short term and maintain essential traffic for families, goods and supplies,” said Wotherspoon. “If the road is impassable, the community needs no-cost airlifts for essentials and essential travel.”

Last week, the leadership of the northern village of Cumberland House said the community will now have to rely on a plane to deliver their groceries due to the road conditions. The deputy mayor said emergency vehicles will also have to commute aerially.

“We need to sit down and (the government) needs to listen to us … people that drive on that highway daily,” said Veronica Favel. “We’re the ones that are feeling the effects of it.”

Vermette said Highway 123 seems to get worse year after year. He challenged Premier Scott Moe to meet him on the highway where the pavement ends.

“I will let him drive in there, and he can see firsthand just how bad the road is and what our community members have to travel on,” said Vermette. “I hope he will take me up on my offer and come and see exactly what our community members are dealing with.”

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In response, Moe said that the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency has been in contact with the community of Cumberland House and that the ministers have reached out as well.

“(Ministers) will be travelling out there to meet with the leadership and the community. There’s a little over $3 million dollars being provided to that road this year,” said Moe. “There’s a few graders on it as we speak … I think we have to have a little more holistic long-term discussion and not only that road but many other roads.”

Moe said the province will get the investment and to get the roads stabilized this summer and that a broader conversation about what the long-term investment into Highway 123 and other northern roads will look like.

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