The Saskatchewan government has finished roughly mapping out the full route for a proposed freeway around Saskatoon.
The last two sections of the route had yet to be finalized until recently. On Monday, some Saskatoon city councillors endorsed the general mapping for those sections, located southwest and southeast of the city.
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The four-lane, 110-kilometre per hour freeway is meant to divert gravel trucks and other commercial vehicles from busy sections of the Saskatoon city roadway such as Circle Drive North.
"It's absolutely needed," said Ward 5 Coun. Randy Donauer, who represents the northern industrial part of the city that Circle Drive North cuts through.
"Will a lot of my residents be using this new perimeter freeway? No. But we'll take joy and solace in the fact that a lot of other traffic will, and so it'll be a lot nicer to get around our communities."
The freeway will also help ease morning traffic congestion on Circle Drive North that backs up across the South Saskatchewan River all the way to Attridge Drive, Donauer added.
The mix of commercial and light traffic on city roads creates the potential for accidents, said Angela Gardiner, the city's acting general manager of transportation.
Circle Drive averaged 20 collisions a year between commercial and light vehicles from 2012 to 2016, according to Saskatchewan Government Insurance. There was one fatality during that period.
'Down the road'
The city and the province have been talking about the freeway for 20 years. In 2014, the project had an estimated price tag of $2 billion.
"It's down the road," said Saskatchewan Highways and Infrastructure Minister David Marit when asked Tuesday whether the province could afford such a project at the moment.
Last week, the government's 2018-2019 budget predicted a $365-million deficit for the year.
The freeway will be owned and operated by the Saskatchewan government. The next three years will be taken up with what the government calls "functional planning."
Costs for city?
Whether future access points to the freeway cost Saskatoon any money remains to be ironed out.
"The province has signalled that they will be looking after the infrastructure cost when it's a connection from a highway to a highway," said Gardiner.
"But when we want to have a city road, say, Eighth Street, that we want to connect, will we be responsible for construction [cost] of that access? We don't yet know."
Ward 8 Coun. Sarina Gersher hopes not.
"I don't think I have the greatest appetite to take on a lot of those expenses," she said.