Some of the volunteers behind a petition seeking major improvements to Highway 6 met with the provincial transportation minister in Winnipeg on May 12.
The #SaferHighway6 citizens’ action group spoke with Transportation Minister Doyle Piwniuk, the department’s deputy minister and a couple of other staff for about an hour last Thursday afternoon, outlining their concerns with the highway itself as well as maintenance and access to emergency services.
“We were able to address a variety of safety issues, health issues, economic issues, maintenance and infrastructure issues,” said Bonnie Linklater of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in a phone interview with the Thompson Citizen after the meeting. “We’re hoping for a followup meeting and we’re hoping for a great outcome and, most of all, a safer highway.”
The citizens action group was launched in the wake of the death of Thompson MLA Danielle Adams between Ponton and Grand Rapids last December. Highway conditions weren’t good at the time of the fatal crash and she was in an area far from the nearest emergency response.
“I don’t think they realize how bad the highway is,” said Brenda Redman.
Piwniuk told the group he hasn’t travelled on Highway 6 up to Thompson but that he is planning to drive up here in June.
“I wish it would have been December,” Redman said.
More than 5,500 people have signed the #SaferHighway6 petition and the lobby effort for highway improvements has received letters of support from four Northern Manitoba First Nations, at least two northern municipalities, the Thompson and The Pas/OCN chambers of commerce and others, including a basketball coach at R.D. Parker Collegiate in Thompson who regularly drives students to tournaments on the highway, as well as Steven Crooks, the owner of Highway 6 Express, a passenger and freight service between Thompson and Winnipeg.
“He has to slow down every time he sees one of those littler orange cones and then start accelerating again when he’s pulling 10,000 or 20,000 pounds of materials and supplies,” said Volker Beckmann. “From a business perspective, he is damaging his economic base fo his company.”
Among the highway improvements the group wants to see are wider and flatter shoulders, better snow plowing and passing lanes every 40 kilometres. The only part of the highway that has passing lanes is the section near Winnipeg even though the route is regularly used by large trucks, some of which are hauling double-length trailers.
Bathrooms and garbage cans at rest stops would also be welcome additions, says Beckmann.
Since the Ponton service station burnt down in 2018, there has not been a public washroom between Wabowden and Grand Rapids, a distance of more than 200 km.
Getting a meeting with the minister is a positive development, but only the start, the group feels.
“It’s easy for the minister to say, ‘We understand, we’re with you,’” said Beckmann. “Every six months we’ll do an assessment and we’ll give a grading, our scorecard.”