A group of northern Manitoba citizens are travelling to Winnipeg this week to demand the provincial government make improvements to a highway they say has been neglected for far too long and is so dangerous people are risking their lives by driving on it.
“We have gotten to the point that a lot of people around here just refuse to drive on that road in the winter, because they are just terrified at the thought of it,” Thompson resident Volker Beckmann said on Wednesday morning, while he was preparing to drive the more than 750 kilometres south down Highway 6 from his Thompson home to Winnipeg.
Beckmann, and a group of concerned and organized citizens who call themselves the Safer Highway 6 Citizens Action Group, are headed to Winnipeg this week, and they plan to present a petition to Transportation Minister Doyle Piwniuk at the Manitoba Legislature on Thursday that has been signed by more than 5,600 Manitobans.
The petition asks the province make immediate investments into and improvements to Highway 6, a long stretch of highway that connects Winnipeg with Thompson and with several other northern Manitoba communities.
Beckmann and the group have a number of concerns about the highway, and on the top of that list is their belief that travelling on it in its current state during the winter is simply not safe on many days.
According to Beckmann, when large semi-trailer trucks are travelling on the road along with smaller vehicles, it creates what he said are “treacherous” conditions for those smaller vehicles, because of the billowing snow that the large trucks create and its effects on drivers and their visibility while on the road.
Highway 6 was the site of a tragic incident in December of last year involving a semi-trailer that took the life of Thompson MLA Danielle Adams on Dec. 9 as Adams, who was just 38-years-old at the time and a mother to two young children, died when she was driving to Winnipeg from Thompson for work and collided head-on with a semi.
Beckmann said that the tragic death of Adams has brought more attention to the state of the highway, but that the problems have been “ignored” for years and accidents on the road are common.
“Manitoba Public Insurance records show an average of seven to eight accidents a month on the highway that result in rollovers, collisions, and fatal head-on collisions,” Beckmann said.
Beckmann said the group will also be bringing what he said is a “long list” of accident victims to the Legislature on Friday.
The group has said they would like to see the province immediately fund and implement a three-year plan for Highway 6, and improvements must include “passing lanes every 50 kilometres, rumble strips at key locations, faster response times for major highway accidents, shoulders wide enough for drivers to park off the road safely, and lay-bys for rest stops.”
The group is also asking that Highway 6 be brought up to “international standards for road safety, for the benefit of northerners and visitors.”
And if the province does not move quickly to make those changes, Beckmann said he is concerned that there will be more accidents on Highway 6, and more serious injuries and death.
“Citizens, no matter who they are or where they live, have the right to travel on safe roads and highways,” he said. “It shouldn’t be any different for us here in the north.”
The petition will be presented on Thursday, along with a summary of citizen’s concerns and more than a dozen letters of support from several northern communities and organizations.
In an email sent to the Winnipeg Sun, a spokesperson for Minister Piwniuk said the province is working on the implementation of a “three-year plan” with an investment of approximately $51 million they said would bring improvement to Highway 6, but that they would not yet commit to passing lanes as part of their plans.
“Beginning this summer, Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure (MTI) will implement a three-year plan to improve PTH 6 with a greater percentage of funds dedicated to northern Manitoba,” the spokesperson said.
“Planned improvements include grade/shoulder widening and installation of rumble strips, where warranted. Widened shoulders have largely already been constructed on PTH 6 from Devils Lake to Thompson.
“MTI will continue to monitor traffic volumes and address the need for passing lanes on PTH 6.”
The spokesperson added that “the province recognizes that PTH 6 is an important transportation corridor for the movement of people and goods that links northern and southern Manitoba.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun