A recent fatal accident on Highway 39 has sparked growing concern by residents for safety on the highway, with many using Twitter hashtags to remind government officials of their promise to twin Highways 39 and 6.
The hashtags #TwinHighway39, #TwinHwy39, #Hwy39 and #TwinHwy39already are among the most used, and many local residents are linking Premier Brad Wall's twitter account to get his attention.
The use of social media to press the government on local issues is increasing, and is seen across the province with the infrastructure needs in other communities.
In the last week, the Time to Twin petition located at www.change.org has received hundreds of new signatures. Marge Young, co-chair of the Time to Twin, noted that the petition has now reached 3,500 signatures.
"It is unfortunate that in a time of tragedy, the signatures grow because it is how people show their support," said Young.
The Time to Twin committee continues to push the government, especially for a timeline for the twinning project. "We want the government to seriously consider a budget for twinning these highways, and also provide a timeline," said Young.
The committee plans to take their online petition to the Ministry of Highways in spring, right before the 2014 budget. They will also bring letters of support from the South Central Transportation Planning Committee and the Southeast Transportation Planning Committee.
According to Doug Wakabayashi, assistant director of communication with the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure, they do prioritize highway infrastructure based on traffic forecasts.
Detailed pre-construction work for the twinning of priority sections were identified by the province in June, including Highway 16 from east of Saskatoon to Clavet, Highway 39 from Bienfait to Estevan, and Highway 7 from Saskatoon to Delisle. Wakabayashi noted that those projects have to move into the construction phase, before any new timelines for other twinning projects are announced.
"Those three sections were identified as a priority for the improvement of safety on those highways," said Wakabayashi. "But we are currently evaluating Highways 39 and 6 for future twinning."
He noted that in the past decade certain areas of the highway corridor between Regina and North Portal has had traffic growth by 46 to 67 per cent.
Buckley Belanger, NDP critic for Highways and Infrastructure, agreed that planning and prioritizing of highways infrastructure is important, but also noted that the SaskParty government should have acted on the safety concerns for Highways 39 and 6 a long time ago.
"There has been no action nor has there been any plan after seven years of the SaskParty being in government," said Belanger. "Residents in the southeast would be more patient and understanding, if work was already occurring on this highway."
"Especially with the booming economy, the commitments by the SaskParty, and considering the goods transported on those highways, action should be occurring," said Belanger. "Highways 39 and 6 provide so much economic benefit to our province, however there are so many hardships on families because of the fatalities on the highways."
He noted that in the last five years there have been over 30 deaths on Highway 39 and 6. Belanger also admitted that he has never traveled on the corridor before, but made a commitment to drive on the two highways.
The "Time To Twin" committee has worked for almost four years to get the government to twin from Regina to North Portal. Highways 39 and 6 are a North American Trade Corridor.
Traffic is increasingly fast and aggressive. The North Portal border crossing does $12 billion in trade annually. The Bakken oil boom in the southeast corner is making the traffic increase very dramatic.
Since 2002, traffic has gone up by 67 per cent between Estevan and Weyburn to an average of more than 3,800 vehicles per day; heavy truck traffic on the 84-kilometre portion of Highway 39 has soared by 84 per cent to 830 per day.
While overall traffic numbers between Weyburn and the junction with Highway 6 have increased by only 46 per cent to 3,680 per day, heavy truck traffic has gone up by 94 per cent to 950 per day.
In August, over 5,500 supporters participated in the "Heaven's Flowered Highway" to attract attention to fatal crashes on the highways. Shortly after the event, Premier Brad Wall had announced that twinning Highways 39 and 6 was a priority.
There is also a concern of increased traffic, after the opening of the commodity hub of Ceres Global Ag. Corp in Northgate, a small hamlet located 30 minutes east of Estevan. "Once this commodity hub is open, it will add 300 to 400 tank trucks to our highways," said Young.
Other routes that may warrant twinning in upcoming years are Highway 7, west of Saskatoon to the Alberta border, and Highway 16 southeast of Saskatoon, both of which have heavy traffic.