Locals say Highway 123 to Cumberland House, Sask. a 'highway' in name only

The only route in and out of the community of Cumberland House, Sask. has been a chronic problem for years, says Renee Carriere.

Renee Carriere says community residents do not complain about the road because its condition has become normal

Renee Carriere said travelling a 90 kilometre stretch of highway 123 sometimes takes as long as three hours, due to its deteriorating condition. (Anne-Marie Kidd/Facebook)

According to Renee Carriere, if people want to drive in or out of Cumberland House, Sask., they're doing so at their own risk.

Highway 123 is the road the community relies on when food, mail or fuel is transported in and the road emergency services must travel to help those in need. If it isn't passable, then the community is essentially cut off from the rest of the province.

"It's everything," Carriere told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition. "As people well know, a highway is your link."

There is an airstrip in the community but it's no better, Carriere said: It gets just as difficult to traverse once the rain rolls in. 

Carriere has been living in the area for 35 years and said the road's condition used to be better than it is now. 

You just become numb to it because it's a new normal.- Renee Carriere

The highway has been a persistent problem and tends to get worse every spring and autumn.

She said community members have reached out to MLAs, MPs and the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure in the past but doing that becomes routine. 

"What do we do? We're not getting answers and it's so frustrating because we're not talking about some pot holes, we're talking about sections of the road that are too soft," she said. 

Carriere said a 90-kilometre trip, which should normally take up less than an hour can take up to three hours. 

"You just become numb to it because it's a new normal," she said. 

"So we don't complain any more."

Cumberland House is located 239 kilometres northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., near the Manitoba border.

Crews trying to fix road, but rebuild too pricey: ministry

An executive director of communications for the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure acknowledged the road is in bad shape, but said putting new pavement down isn't that simple. 

"There'd be considerable reconstruction work that would [be] required to upgrade it to a paved standard," said Doug Wakabayashi.

We have to prioritize our available funding over the entire 26,000-kilometre provincial highway network.- Doug Wakabayashi, Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure

He said that, typically, paving a road to a solid, durable gravel surface in southern Saskatchewan costs between $300,000 and $400,000 a kilometre. 

Given the fact Highway 123, which is 70 kilometres long, is located in the north, partly on the Canadian Shield and the Saskatchewan River delta, costs could be quadruple due to engineering challenges, said Wakabayashi.

He added it's also a low-traffic road, seeing 200-230 vehicles per day. 

"We have to prioritize our available funding over the entire 26,000-kilometre provincial highway network."

Wakabayashi said crews are out working trying to repair the road to a driveable condition; however, the recent wet weather isn't helping. 

He said it's usual for the road to become soft in the spring because it runs through a river delta and lacks any elevation, such as ditches, which could provide drainage.

"Right now the majority of the road isn't in very good condition and there's one stretch of about a kilometre long that's currently only passable by four-by-fours."

As for long-term solutions, Wakabayashi said the ministry is looking for ways to repair low-traffic roads without the expensive cost of repaving. 

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition, Alicia Bridges