A coalition of northern residents who are lobbying the provincial government to make substantial improvements to Highway 6 say it is continuing and ramping up its efforts to get the highways minister to commit to a five-year improvement plan.
The #SaferHighway6 Citizens Action Group, which was launched in the wake of former Thompson MLA Danielle Adams’s December 2021 death in a collision on the province’s main north-south corridor, recently sent a letter to Transportation Minister Doyle Piwniuk, whom members met with last year at the legislature in Winnipeg.
The letter and accompanying resolutions from northern municipalities, First Nations and organizations like the Thompson Chamber of Commerce call on the minister outline a five-year highway improvement plan based on International Road Assessment Program standards and to submit these plans to the parties who have signed the resolution by June 1.
Two of the coalition’s members, Volker Beckmann and Linda Markus of Thompson, say that they both knew Adams long before she became an NDP MLA and that this is not them trying to shame the current government.
“Safety should be a non-political issue,” said Beckmann.
The need for safety improvements to Highway 6, including more passing lanes, wider paved shoulders and better cellular service along all sections of the highway, is longstanding.
Markus said when she was president of the Thomson Chamber of Commerce more than a decade ago, the body passed a resolution that then went through the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce to the NDP government of the day, calling for passing lanes on the highway.
“This is clearly not a political or partisan issue,” Markus said.
Among the signatories of the group’s resolution are the Town of Churchill, the Town of The Pas, the City of Flin Flon, the Town of Snow Lake, the Town of Grand Rapids, Tataskweyak Cree Nation and Nisichawaysihk Cree Nation.
“We’re all wanting the same thing,” said Markus.
The group’s members are disappointed that the City of Thompson, which has told them it is pursuing the matter via the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, the organization that represents all municipalities in the province, has not yet signed the resolution.
“It puzzles me that they wouldn’t see the writing on the wall, see that the other communities have taken that resolution and approved it,” Markus said.
It is also frustrating to have to keep restating their case to changing staff in the minister’s office, Beckmann says.
“We’re constantly dealing with new people and there’s no continuity,” he said.
The minister has been cooperative and willing to listen to the group and Beckmann notes that Piwniuk even drove up to Thompson for a visit last June.
Conditions in the winter, however, are much, much different.
“In January, when it’s dark at 5 o’clock and it’s 40 below and you can’t see when a semi comes, that’s a whole different experience,” said Beckmann. “Those kind of conditions put people at risk.”
And although some trips can be postponed on account of poor driving conditions, others can not.
“If you have a medical appointment tomorrow or you have a plane to catch for holidays, you can’t wait the day or two,” says Beckmann.
Improving the highway, which is already a major commercial thoroughfare with semis carrying goods north and ore trucks carrying nickel concentrate from Vale’s Thompson mines south, is further needed with a gold mine in Lynn Lake and a lithium mine in Snow Lake planning to begin production within as little as a few years.
“We understand the economic value and benefits will be significant and don’t mean to slow down economic growth,” said the letter sent Piwniuk April 10.
Another Manitoba minister spoke a little about Highway 6 during a press conference at the conclusion of a northern development ministers forum in Churchill that wrapped up May 17.
“Highway 6 from Winnipeg to Thompson, certainly it’s a very critical road for us and we want to make sure that it’s as safe as possible for the traffic that’s going north and south on that road daily, “ said Natural Resources and Northern Development Minister Greg Nesbitt.