Saskatchewan government officials say 1,350 km of provincial highways will be improved as part of an $830-million investment.
The money comes from the Saskatchewan Party government’s 2021-22 budget which was unveiled on Tuesday.
“The highways budget contains more than $800 million in highways investments that protect citizens by making our highways safer,” Highways Minister Fred Bradshaw said in a press release.
“These investments will build capacity so we are positioned for renewed economic growth once the (COVID-19) pandemic is in the rearview mirror.”
According to the government, the $830 million for the Ministry of Highways of Infrastructure is 16 per cent or an increase of $115 million over last year’s budget.
The 2021-22 budget provides $520 million for capital projects to improve safety and efficiency on key highway corridors, beginning twinning work on Highway 3 west of Prince Albert and multiple passing lane projects on Highways 2, 3, 12, 14 and 16.
It also includes passing lanes from Kindersley to the Alberta border on Highway 7, on Highway 5 from Saskatoon to Highway 2 and completing passing lanes on Highway 39 from Corrine to Estevan.
The government’s investment also includes $33.1 million in transfers related to municipal infrastructure for the Rural Integrated Roads for Growth program, with $530,000 in this budget for a new Short-line Rail Infrastructure Program to support the industry.
The 2021-22 budget includes a record level of investment in rural provincial highways by providing over $180 million to deliver 280 km of upgrades. These upgrades include Highway 4, U.S. border to Grasslands National Park; Highway 18, west of Lake Alma; Highway 43, Gravelbourg to east of Highway 19; and Highway 322, Glen Harbour to Rowan’s Ravine.
Protecting drivers with safe highways continues to be one of its highest priorities, government officials said. In 2021-22, the ministry will invest $22 million in road safety projects around the province, including: a flashing warning light at the junction of highways 55 and 240; a pedestrian crosswalk at Birch Hills; and intersection right-of-way sightline improvements across the province.
Another safety investment in this year’s budget maintains a $1.6-million increase in the pavement marking program.
The 2021-22 Highways and Infrastructure budget will also invest an additional $455,000 in its mowing program to enhance safety and control weeds. This will increase the program by 22 per cent, delivering roughly 7,500 km of additional right-of-way mowing, including a second cut to many rural highways.
Government officials said $44.5 million will go towards rehabilitation or replacing 14 bridges and multiple culverts across Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon reacted to the budget saying 23,000 more workers are out of a job than last year.
“There’s no jobs plan in this budget to get struggling families back to work — despite the many opportunities we have to grow and diversify our economy,” Wotherspoon said in a press release.
“COVID-19 exposed the real crises in education, health care, long-term care, mental health and addictions — but this government won’t make the crucial investments we need in the services families count on.”
Tuesday’s provincial budget missed a crucial opportunity to invest in workers struggling due to unemployment, according to the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL).
“Unfortunately, this budget offers very little for the working people who have been on the front lines of this crisis since day one,” SFL president Lori Johb said in a statement.
“This budget leaves out workers and does not come close to addressing the issues they are facing — from low wages and unemployment, and health care and education systems that have been pushed to their limits, to a lack of available supports if they become sick while on the job or have to isolate due to an outbreak in their workplace.”
Adversely, the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association (SHCA) said job creation and a step toward economic recovery were two key takeaways from the provincial budget.
“In a time when our provincial economy is sluggish, our industry is thankful for the provincial government’s continuation of spending in our sector,” SHCA president Shantel Lipp said in a statement.
“The heavy construction industry is a key driver in the Saskatchewan economy, one that is rich with natural resources that are coveted around the world. The infrastructure provided by this industry allows Saskatchewan products to reach international markets.
“We believe our industry is one that will lead us to economic stability and future growth.”
The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce (SCC) also responded positively to the budget which said it contains elements crucial to the province’s businesses, including continued financial supports for members negatively impacted by the pandemic.
“The past year has been extremely difficult for all Saskatchewan businesses. All were impacted and the stress on the owners, customers and supply chains meant everyone was forced to work harder,” SCC CEO Steve McLellan said in a press release.
“We don’t know when the situation will return to any type of normalcy, so a continued focus on financially supporting those businesses who need help sustaining themselves in a situation beyond their control is very welcome news.
“The businesses of this province are very aware of the impact the last year and this one has had on the financial health of Saskatchewan. Moving forward, it is only through continuing to support business growth and building a competitive environment that the province can return to its pre-pandemic fiscal position.”