Residents of western Manitoba First Nation frustrated by crumbling highway

People living in and around a western Manitoba First Nation say they're worried someone will get hurt, or worse, if a degrading highway leading into the area isn't fixed soon.

Karen Batson, chief of Pine Creek First Nation, says Highway 20 — an essential route that leads to her community and two other towns nearby — is falling apart.

Spots along a 50-kilometre stretch of the paved highway between Winnipegosis and Camperville have become rough and devoid of pavement. In other spots, pavement is crumbling away. The roadway also has many potholes, bumps and dips have formed in a number of spots where culverts cross underneath the highway.

"A lot of times you have to drive on the opposite side of the road," Batson told CBC News, adding that she's heard of vehicles bottoming out in a bad dip in the road. "It's quite dangerous … your car kind of shimmies to the side [when you hit bumps]."

Batson said the highway is well-travelled because it's the only direct route to Dauphin, where people travel for their groceries, health care and other essential services.

The First Nation is located about 315 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

The newly elected Pine Creek chief says she typically uses the highway three times per week. The road was already a bit rough, but many in the community have told her it's in the worst condition they've seen. 

"I'm very concerned for the community members and all of the travelling that they do … especially if it's a medical emergency and they have to get to Dauphin quickly," Batson added. 

The only other route would add more than 100 kilometres to a round trip to Dauphin. 

Expensive vehicle repairs 

Teresa Flatfoot is the community's health co-ordinator and is responsible for a fleet of four medical transportation vans. She says her drivers typically make at least one round trip per day to Dauphin for appointments and other health matters. 

"It is quite the hassle driving from here," Flatfoot said, adding that one of the vans is currently getting its wheel bearings replaced — likely as a result of the rough road and frequent travel, she said.

Batson also said her own vehicle now has a loose bumper and needs new shocks.

Mitchell Lafreniere, CAO for the Camperville Community Council, also frequently travels on the highway. 

"People that know the road know where they have to slow down and go around the busted areas," he said. "At night, it's a lot more hazardous and risky." 

The complaints from the region come just days after CAA Manitoba released its list of the top 10 worst roads in Manitoba. Highway 20 was on that list — a stretch near Ochre River, Man., west of Dauphin, took the No. 10 spot.

Batson said she recently talked to Manitoba Infrastructure officials about the highway and was told it wouldn't be repaired until 2018 — not soon enough for her, or for others.

"No one should have to travel on these type of road conditions, anywhere in Manitoba," Lafreniere said. "The roads should never get this bad."

A spokesperson for Manitoba Infrastructure told CBC News in a statement that the province is aware of potholes and some rough sections on Highway 20 that will be repaired as required. The statement also said that a number of culverts are slated for replacement in 2018 or 2019.