Published May 22, 2022

Upside Down Under: Five years in the making…

Written by
Marvin Baker
| The Dakotan
In the opinion of Marvin Baker
Marvin Baker
In the opinion of Marvin Baker
Marvin Baker

It was recently announced that the North Dakota Department of Transportation has OK’d a major road construction project that will turn U.S. Highway 52, from the Canadian border at Portal, all the way to Carrington, into a “super 2,” which means strategic passing lanes will be added.

Since April of 2008, there’s been a push to have U.S. 52 four-laned from the border to the four-lane U.S. Highway 2, about 15 miles northwest of Minot.

Public meetings were held along the route and not much ever happened. Then in 2014, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a visit to the border town of Estevan, Saskatchewan and announced an infusion of federal money to help four lane Saskatchewan Provincial Highway 39 from the border at North Portal, to about 20 miles south of Regina where it already is four lane into the city.

That was the push to get the North Dakota DOT on board to do the same on the American side so there could be safer driving conditions. A committee called the Highway 52/Provincial 39 Committee was formed and designed to show the DOT there is a need for a four-lane highway.

The obvious explanation was that traffic from Regina to Minot was going to increase significantly when Provincial 39 became a “twin” highway as it is called in Saskatchewan.

But somewhere in that interim, the Canadian federal government reneged on its promise to get the road twinned, instead opting for passing lanes every several miles or closer together where the road might be more dangerous.

So construction began on Provincial 39 with no activity whatsoever on U.S. 52. The committee continued to meet and make plans including a meeting held in Kenmare that brought North Dakota and Saskatchewan transportation officials together to discuss the pros and cons of a four-lane U.S. 52.

During that meeting in October 2017, then Saskatchewan Transportation Minister David Marit told the meeting that construction was beginning in earnest on the approximate 120-mile stretch of road from the border almost up to Regina.

At that same meeting, North Dakota DOT officials spoke about the importance of a four-lane road, how it’s a safer method of travel and that it would be too expensive to implement.

However, the committee brought in people who live along U.S. 52 and travel that highway every day in order to convince DOT that it would be the right thing to do. It was quite a cross section of those in favor of construction. From the Weyburn, Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce to employees at Gooseneck Implement in Kenmare who frequently haul large machinery on U.S. 52.

What came out of that day-long summit was a promise by DOT to look into the situation and study it closer. And that they did. In the end, DOT came to the conclusion that instead of a four-lane highway from the border to near Minot, a super 2 would be implemented from the border to Carrington.

During the oil boom, some North Dakota highways, such as N.D. Highway 23 from 16 miles south of Minot to Watford City, were changed into a super 2. At the time, N.D. 23 was a very dangerous highway because of constant traffic around the clock. Numerous fatalities took place on that stretch of highway and after the passing lanes were installed, it significantly reduced traffic accidents along that stretch, most notably the 30 miles from Makoti to New Town.

So that’s the compromise that came out of the committee in its meetings with DOT. It’s a reasonable compromise because it’s always been about a safer highway and passing lanes will make it safer.

However, there were still a number of committee members who wanted to see a four lane, despite the cost because it would be a long-term solution to a problem that will most likely resurface in the next 10 to 15 years.

Canadian census reports indicate the population is growing in southern Saskatchewan, including the city of Regina. That means, as that population grows, there will be additional provincial traffic on U.S. 52 and a freeway from Regina to Minot would have been the long-term solution.

But, compromise is good and we can rest assured that U.S. 52 and Provincial 39 highways will be safer than they have been in recent years.

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