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North Dakota/Saskatchewan transportation officials meet in Regina

Promoting a safer U.S. Highway 52 took a giant leap forward Tuesday (July 11) when North Dakota and Saskatchewan transportation groups met in Regina.

7/18/17 (Tue)

Promoting a safer U.S. Highway 52 took a giant leap forward Tuesday (July 11) when North Dakota and Saskatchewan transportation groups met in Regina.

Three members of a committee promoting a safer U.S. Highway 52, and a representative of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, met with Saskatchewan Minister of Highways and Infrastructure Dave Marit in the provincial capitol to discuss the future of Saskatchewan Highway 39 and U.S. Highway 52.

Both highways connect at Portal and while massive improvements are being done on 39 Highway, as it is called in Saskatchewan, no changes are planned for U.S. Highway 52 from the border to U.S. Highway 2 near Minot.

It’s the first time the ministry and the DOT have been together in recent years. They discussed a number of issues including a four-lane highway from Regina to Minot, that most likely won’t happen because of funding shortfalls.

In 2014, the Canadian federal government announced Highway 39 would become a four-lane road from Regina to the border.

But Marit said on Tuesday that plan has been scaled back. However, improvements will continue including sections of the highway that will be four laned. Other stretches of the 120-mile road will become a “super 2” which is a two-lane highway with frequent passing lanes.

“We should have a strategy between North Dakota and Saskatchewan,” Marit said. “We should have changes on both sides of the border.”

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, agreed with Marit saying a super 2 would be far more cost effective than four laning 80 miles of highway in northwest North Dakota.

According to Marit, the ministry has done detailed studies on installing passing lanes as a follow up to the four-lane strategy and found it more efficient to add passing lanes on Provincial Highway 6, which goes south out of Regina about 30 miles where it connects to Highway 39 near the small town of Wilcox.

With all due respect to North Dakota’s decision making, Marit suggested future meetings to sync some of the logistical issues between the province and the state.

“There’s weights and logistics of trucks hauling freight,” Marit said. “We need to have a discussion about that. I think this is important. It just makes sense.”

Ruby, who is the chairman of the transportation committee in the House of Representatives, told Marit the North Dakota group wants to address weights of heavy trucks on each highway as well as the safety of the road itself.

Deputy Minister Fred Antunes asked the North Dakota group if both sides could discuss weights and measures.

“This might be an opportunity to have some further dialog,” Antunes said. “We can also get together with trucking companies to exchange our information.”

Marit asked Ruby if there are any plans to improve U.S. 52, and Ruby said no. Marit countered that by 2020 he hopes to have the entire Highway 39 route improved.

“I would expect there would be an appetite to do that in North Dakota,” Marit said. “It’s important to meet and engage in this.”

Conducting the meeting also on behalf of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Marit said the premier was recently in Iowa to speak about trade issues which falls in line with Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s important dialog with trade relations and infrastructure,” Marit said. “I would also like to link Montana.”

One of the biggest challenges, at least for Marit, is the province has two 24-hour ports of entry, at North Portal and at Regway/Raymond, Mont.

Most heavy truck drivers are using North Portal and that’s why he would like to link with Montana, to spread out the traffic a bit.

Everyone agreed that when Highway 39 is completed, it will generate additional traffic on U.S. 52, however, a new bypass is being built around Regina that could produce some incredible traffic flows north and south.

“When that bypass opens, it will create some synergy in this trade corridor, and I would think we’d like to improve the trade corridor,” Marit said. “The challenge is the one crossing at Regway that isn’t being utilized.”

A global intermodal hub, a major Canadian grocery distributor and numerous farm manufacturing plants are north of Regina, so the new bypass will make it easier for products to go south on Highway 39  to get to their destinations in the United States, according to Marit.

According to Ruby, officials in North Dakota should look for harmonization, at least in some capacity. He has twice introduced bills in the Legislature to study an improved U.S. 52 and twice they came out of committee but were shot down on the House floor.

As the 90-minute meeting was concluding, Antunes again brought up the weights and measurements issue regarding semi-trailers. Marit added that regardless of what we say or do, truck drivers in western Canada are going to use Highway 39 as their main route because of its primary weight capacity and because it’s a shorter route to a United States destination.

Marit was then asked if he would be willing to attend a meeting in Kenmare in October. He said he would and would be willing to speak, be part of a panel or whatever is needed to help sync both highways.

In addition, because the Saskatchewan Legislature goes into session in November, Marit’s testimony following a Kenmare meeting could add some impact to the ministry and how it relates to potential improvements on U.S. 52.

“This has more merit than we know and anything we can do to participate will only help North Dakota and Saskatchewan,” Marit said. “I’ll be part of a panel discussion, or whatever I can do to help out.”

The U.S. 52 committee has talked about an all inclusive meeting in Kenmare to bring both sides together to further discuss plans and options regarding the two highways.

The best-case scenario is to get Gov. Doug Burgum and Premier Wall together, as well as transportation officials on both sides.

However, Robyn Lekien, the senior administrative assistant to Marit, told The Kenmare News the premier and minister wouldn’t travel together as a matter of protocol.

“Both of them can’t be out of the province at the same time,” Lekien said. “So, you’ll get one or the other but not both.” ... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!