Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online
REGINA – It’s too late to have taken advantage of the tremendous Fort McMurray boom, but that road linking La Loche to Fort McMurray is finally going to be built to an all-weather standard.
On the Saskatchewan side, at least. No word on the Alberta side yet.
On Jan. 17, the Government of Saskatchewan announced it would build its portion, up to the Alberta border. However, the other side, which would include bridge construction, is up to Alberta.
The Alberta portion runs from south of Anzac to the border as a winter road. There are no bridges over the Christina River and two creeks along the right-of-way. The last nine kilometres on the Saskatchewan side are also noted as “closed summers.” That portion, right now, is not much more than a dirt trail.
Moe posted on social media a letter he wrote to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney about the topic, noting they had discussed the road on Dec. 9, 2021.
“This was announced in 2005 by former Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert and former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein as a joint project to celebrate both province’s centennials,” Moe wrote, noting he attached a press release from that time.
“The road was expected to take three years to complete, with construction to begin as early as 2006. Unfortunately, it was never completed, although a significant amount of work has been done on the Saskatchewan side. Of the roughly 53 kilometres of this road on the Saskatchewan side, we have already completed 44 kilometres up to Garson Lake.
“I am pleased to announce our governments’ commitment to complete the remaining nine kilometres up to the Alberta border by 2023. I am asking your government to make a similar commitment to complete the Alberta side of this important project,” Moe wrote.
Moe pointed out a new and alternative route would offer better access between northern communities. “Once complete, this road will give employers in the Athabasca oil sands access to a valuable labour pool in northern Saskatchewan while providing lucrative new employment opportunities to this region.”
He added it would provide improved emergency response and evacuation routes, perhaps alluding to the recent evacuation of Fort McMurray due to it being assailed by fire in 2016. Forest fires have also been issues in Saskatchewan’s north.
Moe’s Facebook post said, “Our government has committed to completing the remaining 9 km on the Saskatchewan side of the border by 2023 and it is important our governments work together to improve access between our northern communities, improve safety for those that travel the road and provide employers from the Athabasca oil sands access to a valuable labour pool in northern Saskatchewan.”
Pre-construction work on the remaining nine kilometres near Garson Lake to the Alberta border will begin this year, with construction expected to be complete by the end of 2023. The result would be a gravel road, capable of all-season traffic.
Alberta has not yet begun construction of its portion of the road, the news release from the Government of Saskatchewan said. It added the Highway 956 project is on top of the nearly $68 million the province is investing in northern transportation infrastructure in the current fiscal year.
NDP critic for agriculture, finance, SaskTel, Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation, and Crown Investments Corporation Trent Wotherspoon tweeted in response:
Reminds me of the Sask. Party’s politicking before the 2008 by-election in the northern Cumberland riding.
They promised a needed road to Wollaston Lake. They walked away from their word after and never built the road.
— Trent Wotherspoon (@WotherspoonT) January 17, 2022
The next day, Jan. 18, Premier Scott Moe called a byelection for the Athabasca riding, which this road is in.
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