“We service a huge area, particularly on the west side of Highway 2 all the way through what we call the Buckland area, which is probably 12, 15 miles west of Highway 2,” Buckland Reeve Larry Fladager said. “Each day we have graders assigned to those areas, and they need to get there to do their work, and the only way now that they can get there is on Highway 2.”
Graders use a large blade to smooth and shave gravel roads. Most roads in the RM are gravel, and regular grading is necessary to keep them in good shape for driving.
A video on the Daily Herald website called “Stubborn Grader Operator” shows a line of more than a dozen vehicles stuck behind a grader at 5:30 in the afternoon. So far the video has received over 800 views.
Besides slowing traffic, drivers who attempt to pass graders risk running into oncoming vehicles.
Fladager said that there are two main reasons why the graders have been driving on the highways: Terrible service roads and flooded side roads. The former is under the control of the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure, while the latter falls under the RM’s jurisdiction.
“I’ll pin this on the Ministry of Highways,” Fladager said. “The side road is in such bad condition. You take a 48,000-pound grader and run it down those side roads, you need to go about three miles an hour. By the time our guys got to where they’re going, they’d have to turn around and come home, and so we’ve made the choice: We (can) no longer use that service road because it’s in such poor condition.
“We occasionally use it for some of our smaller equipment, but those big graders with no suspension … We’ve expressed that concern to the Ministry of Highways with little response in terms of their willingness to repair it to a condition whereby it would improve the safety of us moving about the municipality.”
A ministry representative acknowledged problems with the service roads, but said there were currently no proposals for improving them.
We (can) no longer use that service road because it’s in such poor condition. - Larry Fladager
“There are no plans right now to do any re-paving or anything like that in the area,” director of communications Doug Wakabayashi said. “But our crews will continue to perform regular maintenance on it.”
For the government, improving main roads is the higher priority. Saskatchewan has committed to investing $2.2 billion in the provincial highway system over the next four years.
The bulk of this year’s budget will go towards improving 1,200 kilometres of highway. Wakabayashi estimated that re-paving main roads or service roads can cost anywhere from $250,000 to $330,000 per km.
“Certainly we understand people’s frustration, and we know local residents aren’t satisfied with the condition of the service road,” he said. “But our priority is the main driving lanes of the highways.”
The second factor forcing graders onto the highway — flooded side roads resulting from increased moisture in recent years — is the RM’s responsibility to deal with.
“We’re working through the Provincial Disaster Assistance Program to get funding to repair those roads,” Fladager said. “We’re just in the process of getting our approvals now, but it’ll take more time to get the roads repaired. But we’re working on a solution to try and get our flooded roads opened up, and once that’s opened up, then we’ll have less traffic on the highway.”
Until that day comes, Fladager pleaded to the motoring public for patience. Graders start work at 7 a.m. and work a 10-hour shift, but must get to and from work like everyone else. Fladager noted that he too experiences the slower traffic.
“I go to work (at the) same time. I see our graders,” he said. “But (I) just ask for people’s patience and understanding, and (recognizing) the fact that we just have no other way to get our equipment to work, and that’s about all I can ask.”