Manitoba unveils blueprint for decades’ worth of upgrades to South Perimeter Highway

Extensive upgrades to Winnipeg's north Perimeter Highway will begin Monday, according to the province. File / Global News

The province of Manitoba has released its overall vision for Winnipeg’s South Perimeter Highway, which is going to see some major upgrades over at least the next two decades.

“We’ve set out to do substantive work to address safety and operational problems. This study will serve as our blueprint for the next 20 to 30 years,” said Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler during Thursday’s announcement.

“Our goal is to make the South Perimeter safer and easier to travel for the more than 30,000 vehicles that drive on the South Perimeter – for that matter the Perimeter Highway – every day.”

The entire plan for the upgrades has been broken into two phases.

Read more: Province releases plan to make south Perimeter Highway less deadly

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The first was designed with forecasted 2048 traffic volumes in mind and includes making the highway into a four-lane divided freeway, improving and adding interchanges, as well as widening some sections.

The second stage includes expanding the highway into six lanes, constructing additional interchanges, and building a bypass around St. Norbert.

Due to the size and scope of the project, neither Schuler nor the report itself went into detail about the potential costs or timeline, although the minister said it would be “in the billions of dollars.”

“This is something we’re going to have to whittle away,” Schuler told reporters.

“We’re 1.2 million people in a province the size of two average European countries. So I think we do a really good job at what we do, however a several-billion-dollar project, I can’t put a timeline on that.”

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Read more: Province names safety road after teen crash victim Ethan Boyer

That said, four specific projects have been approved with rough construction dates scheduled. They are:

  • St. Mary’s Road interchange — construction is expected to start in late 2021.
  • Service road at Aimes Road and Melnick Road — construction is expected to start in 2021.
  • West Perimeter Highway service road from Wilkes Avenue to Oakland Road — construction is expected to start in late 2020.
  • Brady Road service road, otherwise known as Ethan Boyer Way — construction began earlier this summer.

The minister also indicated the province’s first priority would be eliminating uncontrolled intersections for safety’s sake.

“We have mud paths entering what is slowly becoming a high-speed corridor. It is terribly unsafe,” Schuler said.

Read more: Manitoba government plans new interchange for South Perimeter Highway

Terry Shaw, head of the Manitoba Trucking Association, who was also one of several stakeholders who provided input on the study, welcomed Thursday’s announcement, telling Global News that although the upgrades are “a few decades late,” he’s glad the province has recognized the need and acted, even in the midst of a pandemic.

“(I’m) not trying to be overly critical, (it’s) certainly a good plan, we absolutely support the plan,” Shaw said.

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“It’s just in the age of COVID, with the needs for economic stimulus, with the need for supply chain efficiency, we would like to see this major trade corridor invested in sooner and the project expedited.”

Shaw added that with a timeline stretching so far into the future, there are concerns it might fall short of whatever needs must be met after 2050.

The report itself acknowledges a previous study undertaken in 1988, which recommended the South Perimeter (officially known as PTH 100) be made a freeway only accessible by interchanges.

Since that time, the study says traffic demands have doubled.

Read more: Manitoba to spend $150M on highway repairs

The South Perimeter Design Study deals with the section of highway running from the Trans-Canada and Portage Avenue intersection in the west, to the Trans-Canada and Fermor Avenue intersection in the east.

In total it identifies 22 existing connections or crossings that will need to remain. Nine of those are identified as needing “roadway and structure design modifications,” while 13 need new roadway designs, and 11 need new structure designs.

The extensive report identifies a long list of existing conditions for its design concept, including property boundaries, active transportation, drainage and emergency services, but also provides a glimpse into possible plans stakeholders have for the future.

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For instance, one small section of the study says Winnipeg Transit is considering a handful of park-and-ride sites near the Perimeter, and also a “possible median rail rapid transit system in the long term along Portage Avenue; and a rail maintenance yard outside the Perimeter Highway.”

Public feedback on the idea took place between June 2018 and September of the same year.

The full report can be found on the province’s website.

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