Our unseasonably cold and wet spring looks like it maybe finally breaking. I noticed a few people out seeding this weekend even though there are still lots of mud to tramp through. Hopefully by the middle of the week we will be going hard on the Swenson farm and I expect most of my neighbours will also be out in the fields. I just wish it would stop freezing every night as it is hard to get yourself going when you wake up in the morning and there is still frost on top of your vehicle.
Speaking of getting things going, most of you probably heard the announcements last week from both provincial and federal politicians about the bypass to be built around the city of Regina. This highway bypass will be able to bring truck traffic from Highway 11 down the west side of Regina to the TransCanada highway and then south of the city and around to meet back up to the TransCanada highway east of the city. Anyone who has been caught in traffic on the east side of Regina in the last few years will understand the congestion and the safety hazard that all of this traffic poses. What is unique about this announcement is that it will be a P3 project (public private partnership) and the first of its kind in Saskatchewan because it involves a major new addition to our highway infrastructure.
This highway loop of some 30 miles will involve the building of nearly a dozen overpasses and interconnects with other highways and the city of Regina. It is supposedly valued at over 1.2 billion dollars. That is a lot of taxpayers’ money from both the provincial and federal levels. The politicians claim by going this way, the project can be built in a little over 3 years if the affected right of ways can be purchased fairly soon. There is already considerable push back from some of the affected landowners so it remains to be seen if government can do this without expropriation being used.
The reasons I raise this is three-fold. The time lines are challenging given that it has taken over 2 years to build one overpass at Pinky Road which is part of this new system just west of Regina. Building another 9 or 10 of these in basically the same time frame will certainly be challenging. Secondly, the proponent has not been selected yet and no one knows what the criteria will be on the ongoing management of this section of highway over the next 20 or 30 years. And thirdly, is this experiment in building and maintaining parts of the highway infrastructure by private contractors going to become the norm with highway infrastructure across the province?
I think these are fair questions to ask because obviously a company large enough to do a project this size is going to need to be able to recoup their investment in a reasonable amount of time. I can’t believe that a properly engineered and constructed project like this is going to need much in the way of maintenance or snow removal for many years to come. So the maintenance part of this contract is not going to pay back the initial investment any time soon. Is a company this large going to set up all of the infrastructure necessary to maintain only 30 or so miles of highway? Are they going to put in place buildings, equipment and manpower to sit around and watch 30 miles of highway? So the question is legitimate - is there more on the table than just this contract?
Any of us that drive around the province knows that even with supposed yearly increases in the highway’s budget we are not gaining ground on the condition of our roads. There is not a Saskatchewan highway that does not have sections of potholes, broken pavement and the ability to tear the bottom out of your vehicle on a yearly basis. I think the taxpaying public have been very quiet in their reaction to this announcement because they are willing to look at just about anything that will take the pressure off of the current highways budget and allow more of our infrastructure across the province to get fixed properly instead of simply re-patching the holes every spring and fall.
This desperation that Saskatchewan drivers feel should not be used by the government to score votes in the next provincial election or set up a scheme to reward some of their big business friends. As we have learned to our chagrin with the “lean” initiative in our health system which is now revealing tens of millions of dollars in unexpected costs and the animosity of many of our health care professionals that we don’t need the same thing occurring in our highways and infrastructure department. There had better not be any under-the-table promises from the Sask Party government to whomever wins the contracts and these contracts need to be scrutinized by the public of our province so that we can watch this process move forward with a clear understanding of what the future looks like.
Maybe this P3 project will be the best thing since sliced bread when it comes to highways and related infrastructure projects. Certainly we need something better than what we have. Perhaps this can happen if Mr. Wall and his friends don’t play silly games with this project like they have with so many in the past.
Your feedback is welcome on anything you see in the Monday Morning Commentary. Please send your comments to contact @pcsask.ca. If you know of anyone that would be interested in receiving this by email, please forward me their email address. Also – don’t forget to check out our website at pcsask.ca.
These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.