The state of Saskatchewan roads was a big topic of discussion at this week’s Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) Convention.
The issue came up during the “bear pit session,” where attendees could ask their elected officials about a number of things.
“Mr. Bradshaw, you should drive down (Highway) 47 north of Estevan … and that’s not the only highway in the province,” said one attendee expressing concern to highways minister Fred Bradshaw.
Rural administrators have been after the province to fund problematic areas such as Highway 47.
SARM president Ray Orb expressed concern that as the economy continues to rebound, so will wear and tear from trucking and transportation.
“We totally understand our members’ point of view — that more money needs to be put into highways,” Orb told reporters on Wednesday,
Bradshaw said at the convention that with 26,000 kilometres of roadways in the province, there’s a limit to what can be fixed.
He added the government is doing its best to prioritize where money should be spent on various roadways.
“By 2030, we want to improve 10,000 kilometres of highways and we’re actually on track to do that. We did 1,350 kilometres of highways this year,” Bradshaw said.
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“I know everybody wants a primary highway built past their place and they want it built right now but we can only do so much.”
He added the government is working hard and thinks they’ve made a big investment in highways.
Read more: Saskatchewan’s Official Opposition calls on provincial government to improve northern highways
NDP MLA Trent Wotherspoon said the province needs to invest in highways and it needs to ensure it’s not a “quick fix.”
“All too often, the province is going in for a quick fix that then is being repaired two, three years down the road as it’s falling back apart,” Wotherspoon said.
“We need to ultimately make sure we’re investing in systems and rebuilds that are going to get the public the value for money they deserve and the safety and integrity of those highways that people deserve and need.”
With news earlier this week that Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) would be handing out $100 to customers who had a vehicle registered as of March 9, officials were questioned why that money couldn’t be put toward funding like road repairs and upgrades.
The minister responsible for SGI, Don Morgan, responded that the money in the auto fund, where the rebate cheques will be coming from, doesn’t belong to the government.
“It belongs to the people that put it in there by rates (and) by what they paid for in their license plates,” Morgan said, noting there is an investment return on that money.
“It’s expected to be returned to those people either by way of paying out premiums or claims or by a refund back to the people.”
SGI estimated that the costs of the rebate will total $95 million.
Morgan said the extra money is due to low claims because of the pandemic and high investment return.
The provincial government is set to deliver its 2022-23 budget on Wednesday.
In last year’s budget, $830 million was set aside for highway investments.
— with files from David Giles