Does Saskatoon need a $2-billion perimeter highway?

With a proposed highway around Saskatoon's perimeter still 15 to 20 years from construction, planners say the province should take a closer look at the need for it and where it should go.

Some urban planners question proposed route, overall need for a bypass

In this file photo, traffic on Circle Drive East piled up following a seven-vehicle crash. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

As developers pitch new subdivisions on the edges of the city, some urban planners say it's time to rethink a proposed $2-billion perimeter highway around Saskatoon.

The bypass, first proposed 20 years ago, would now cut through the city itself, said Alan Wallace, the former director of planning and development with the City of Saskatoon.

"Before spending an enormous amount of money, sit back and look at the big picture, because the big picture has completely changed," said Wallace, now a senior planning consultant with V3 Companies of Canada.

Circle Drive was supposed to be a bypass perimeter highway or freeway, and we ended up with a clogged arterial road.- Avi Akkerman, planning professor at the University of Saskatchewan

Wallace said as Saskatoon grows, it will need to reroute heavy trucks away from busy intersections such as Idylwyld Drive and Circle Drive North.

A semi-truck waits for a light to change on Circle Drive East in Saskatoon. (Don Somers/CBC)

Last year, the province released a map showing the path of a proposed Saskatoon freeway. It includes a new bridge that would be located a kilometre north of the Chief Mistawasis bridge, which opened in October.

Wallace said the proposed route needs a makeover.

A working group including staff from the Rural Municipality of Corman Park, Saskatoon, Osler, Martensville and Warman is holding consultations with people and landowners who may be affected by the bypass.

Wallace said he advises against building a bridge through environmentally sensitive swale lands on the east side of the South Saskatchewan river, as currently proposed. 

Plans call for freeway construction across Saskatoon's northeast swale, an ecologically sensitive area north of the new Evergreen subdivision, and east of the South Saskatchewan River. (CBC)

"They can see where industrial areas are, they can see where residential areas are, they can see where important natural areas are," said Wallace.

He said the bypass ought to be a regional asset, connecting further north along the river, closer to the growing cities of Martensville and Warman.

"There's no need to cut through the swale in its current location," Wallace said.

Saskatoon will see little benefit from a perimeter bypass, others say

Avi Akkerman, a professor of regional and urban planning at the University of Saskatchewan, said Saskatoon would be better off shelving the perimeter freeway and limiting its geographic growth.

"We are repeating the same mistakes," Akkerman said. "Forty-five years ago, Circle Drive was supposed to be a bypass perimeter highway or freeway, and we ended up with a clogged arterial road."

He said building another Saskatoon freeway promotes sprawl, burdening taxpayers with decades of upkeep-related costs.

Akkerman's colleague Ehab Diab, an assistant professor of geography and planning, agreed. He said officials could use other tactics to ease truck-related congestion on existing roads.

"Maybe we can think about having them move outside peak hours, for example," Diab said.

He said the city and province must rethink the way they manage freeways and intersections prone to congestion.

"Of course it's not black-and-white," Diab said. "But maybe some type of timing out peak movement would give us good balance and a good starting point instead of investing two billion dollars building a new highway."

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Highways published this proposed route for the Saskatoon Freeway in 2018. (Government of Saskatchewan)

Akkerman said it's also no surprise to see landowners jockeying for position now that the proposed route for a Saskatoon bypass is becoming more clear.

"Once we have a freeway like this, the surrounding real estate goes immediately up in price because it's a precious access road," Akkerman said. 

"It's got to fill in some pockets of interested people but I don't think that the community at large will benefit from it," he said.


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