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How is Sask. highway repair money being spent?

There's a dispute at the Saskatchewan legislature over just how much highway construction is happening in the province.
There's a dispute at the Saskatchewan legislature over just how much highway construction is happening in the province. File / Global News

REGINA – Saskatchewan budget documents show the number of bridges and culverts being repaired in the province isn’t as high as the Sask. Party government claimed last week.

Highways and Infrastructure Minister Nancy Heppner was asked Thursday why highway maintenance spending had gone up significantly, but fewer kilometres were being paved.

Heppner suggested more culverts and bridges are being repaired, saying culvert projects had increased by 2,000 per cent.

During Monday’s question period, Heppner corrected that number, saying it had reached 3,600 per cent. She also responded to NDP criticisms to say, “the difference is we’re actually rebuilding our roads.”

However, provincial budgets show spending on bridges and culverts actually decreased over the last year: $49 million in 2013-14 compared to $37.6 million in 2014-15.

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The total wasn’t broken out of 2007-08 spending, but 2008-09 figures showed $19.4 million spent specifically on bridges and culverts.

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Heppner told Global News culverts were only used an example.

“We’re doing multi-year projects,” she said. “We had tens of millions of dollars in emergency flood repairs that had to be done. Those are shorter stretches of road but far more expensive.”

Numbers obtained through an NDP freedom-of-information request also show grading and paving of twinned highways has declined since 2008-08.

Bang for the buck

Breaking down highway maintenance spending on a simple, per-kilometre basis, it appears the construction bill has increased while fewer stretches of highway have been repaired.

In 2008-09, taxpayers spent $226 million to repave and resurface 599 kilometres of highway. A high of 648 kilometres were repaired in 2010-11 at a cost of $250 million.

READ MORE: Costs rising, fewer KM of highway being repaired

$281 million was spent in 2013-14 to repair 460 kilometres of highway. Then spending jumped to $405 million in 2014-15 to repave 478 kilometres.

On average, from 2007 to 2011, the government paid $407,250 per kilometre of highway repair. The following four years after, that cost went up 58 per cent to $644,571 per kilometre.

Contract work

The Opposition NDP are critical of the government eliminating jobs in the ministry of highways in favour of hiring companies on a contract basis.

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“We see a government that has cranked up its spending in a massive way on private consultants but are delivering less asphalt for Saskatchewan people,” said deputy NDP leader Trent Wotherspoon.

But Heppner argues it’s more cost-effective to hire on a project-by-project basis., using the example of new passing lanes.

“If you have a specialty in something like that, we wouldn’t hire you to be on-staff permanently, because we’re not going to be doing them every year across the province.”