Manitoba drivers may have to hold it in as province mulls rest stop cuts
Review of Pine Grove rest stop along Highway 1 is underway, Infrastructure Minister says
Finding a place to stop and go along Manitoba's highways may soon be a bit more challenging.
The provincial government is considering whether to close some highway rest areas where toilets are freely available during tourist season. Drivers seeking a restroom, or simply a place to pull off and rest, would have to go to a gas station or other private business.
Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler says a review is already underway for the Pine Grove rest area — the only one between Winnipeg and the Ontario boundary on the Trans-Canada Highway.
The sewage lagoon needs an extensive overhaul, which Schuler said could cost up to $1.6 million.
"I would point out, 20 kilometres either direction there are gas stations with food bars, where you can get out, stretch your legs, you can get a coffee and a doughnut if you want and buy a sandwich or powder your nose … whatever you want," Schuler said.
Some business owners don't want truck drivers stopping on their property and many have signs saying bathrooms are for paying customers only, said truck driver Dave Redl.
Many drivers also use the stop as a place to sleep, and without it, they may be forced to pull over to the side of the road or into some other parking lot, creating a safety hazard or risking a ticket, Redl said.
"If they want to make Manitoba highways safer and not just for truckers too, (but) for car drivers and campers … they need to start adding rest areas," he said.
An online petition has been launched to save the Pine Grove rest area, and several hundred people had signed it within a few hours.
The rest area "gives people a place to stop without being obligated to buy anything," said Wayne Lovenuk, who has operated a food truck at the Pine Grove rest area for most of the last two decades.
The Trans-Canada Highway is busy on summer weekends with Manitobans who go to cottages in northwestern Ontario, and rest areas are much better than private businesses for sports teams and other large groups that travel together, Lovenuk added.
Schuler did not specify what other rest areas might be eyed for closure. He said it would depend on whether there are private businesses nearby.
"People are gravitating more toward those places to stop where you can get more service," he said.
The Progressive Conservative government has been trying to keep a tight leash on spending to cut a half-billion-dollar provincial deficit. The Tories have promised to balance the budget by 2024.
More from CBC Manitoba:
With files from Sean Kavanagh and Janice Grant