The Manitoba Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (MTI) recently posted publicly its three-year plans for transportation infrastructure spending, including a schedule that estimates when major projects will be rolled out.
“We are very glad to have this planning document,” says Manitoba Heavy Construction Association (MHCA) president Chris Lorenc. “It’s a good blueprint our industry can review to know what it should plan for down the road. And there’s confirmation in the budget for the next three years.”
Lorenc says the government’s public release of its transportation and infrastructure investment plans is a milestone event.
“It’s the first time a Manitoba government has released a plan that identifies explicitly the road and highway projects over the next three years,” he says. “The document gives the public, industry and consumers the opportunity to see where the provincial government’s transportation priorities are.
“It’s important for our members, because it enables them to plan their business affairs ahead of time. It gives assurance to the public that the government is on the job.”
Lorenc says the MHCA would like to see MTI publish one-year and five-year plans in the future, following the example of the City of Winnipeg.
“But three years is a great start,” he says. “Our association has been pushing the government for years to produce a document like this. Until now, Manitoba governments haven’t realized the importance of publicly posting what their investment strategy is.”
Lorenc says Manitoba is catching up to other provinces, such as B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, that are already publicly posting their transportation and infrastructure spending plans.
“It’s a giant leap forward for Manitoba,” he says.
The MHCA has been talking to MTI senior officials about ways to refine the procurement process for highway, water and water-control infrastructure capital projects, Lorenc says.
Up for discussion are such subjects as ways to design procurement so that it assists industry capacity growth; pre-tender project budget estimates; timely tender advertising and awards; and bid-irrevocability periods.
Given the increasing concern about the efficacy of supply chains, not only in Canada but around the world, the recent posting of MTI’s investment strategy is nothing if not timely.
Titled the 2022 Multi-Year Highways Investment Strategy, the document differs from the department’s capital budget in that it is a guide for strategic infrastructure investments.
MTI says the plan enables it to meet both long-term financial and functional goals.
“With three years of projects planned out in advance, there is flexibility and opportunity to accommodate project deferrals and advancements to optimize budget expenditures,” it states.
The development of the capital plan and prioritization of investments are guided by two governmental strategic initiatives: Trade and Commerce and the Winnipeg One Million Perimeter Highway Freeway Initiative.
In MTI’s nomenclature, trade is not the same as commerce. Trade routes support inter-provincial or international goods movement, while commerce routes support goods movement within Manitoba.
MTI describes Trade and Commerce as follows: “The provincial highway network plays a vital role in enabling market access. Over the next decade, Manitoba will be seen as a national and international transportation hub, linking east to west, north to south, and enabling strong economic activity within and across our borders.
“Allowing heavier loads on our highways supports Manitoba businesses by requiring fewer trips/shipments to transport goods from one location to another.
However, this requires greater investment to build the highway infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and culverts that support the loading on these routes.”
When completed, the grid of Trade and Commerce routes will stretch 7,112 kilometres, or just over one-third of Manitoba’s all-weather provincial road network.
The Perimeter Highway is an approximately 90-kilometre-long ring road for through-traffic around Winnipeg.
Traffic volumes of over 30,000 vehicles per day on the highway have been increasing rapidly.
MTI wants to upgrade the Perimeter to a fully access-controlled freeway, similar to the United States Interstate standard.
Upgrading the Perimeter to a freeway standard requires a combination of safety improvements and the construction of interchanges.
Some of the safety improvements MTI says are required are adding turning lanes, improving or adding service roads, adding signals to or closing unsafe median openings, and limiting access to some intersections.
MTI says two benefits of a fully access-controlled freeway are improved safety, by eliminating at-grade intersections where the highest potential for serious collisions occur, and improved efficiency, by reducing congestion and increasing the free flow of traffic by replacing traffic lights with grade-separated intersections.