Millions spent maintaining little-used Sask. roads

Some Saskatchewan highways get as little as 30 vehicle trips per day, but the government says closures are not an option as it prepares its March 22 budget.

'Closing low-traffic volume highways would essentially close rural Saskatchewan': government

Some Saskatchewan highways cost millions to maintain but see just a few dozen vehicle trips per day. (Saskatchewan Highway Hotline)

To tackle the $1.2-billion provincial deficit, some say the government should look to the roads less travelled.

Stop bragging about how much you're spending.- Todd MacKay, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

CBC News has obtained a list of the 10 least-used paved highways in Saskatchewan and their cost. Millions are spent on roads that see just a few dozen vehicle trips per day.

Todd MacKay, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said that's an inefficient system. He said the government needs to be more responsible with taxpayers' money.

"Stop bragging about how much you're spending. Start demonstrating the value you're delivering. Highways is a really important place to do that," said MacKay.

Todd MacKay says it's inefficient for the Saskatchewan government to pour millions into little-used roads.

Although Finance Minister Kevin Doherty has repeatedly said "everything is on the table" in the budget that comes down March 22, a government official said road closures are not part of that discussion.

"Closing low-traffic volume highways would essentially close rural Saskatchewan," the official said in an email. "Whether a highway serves 50 vehicles per day, or 5,000, that highway is essential to those who use it."

$6M on 10 least-used highways

Saskatchewan maintains a network of 160,000 kilometres of road. That's enough to circle the globe four times, according to the Saskatchewan government website. It's also far more road than Ontario or any other province.

Saskatchewan's least-used paved highway is a 29-kilometre stretch in the province's southwest corner. Running from the U.S. border to the former townsite of Govenlock, it sees an average of just 30 vehicle trips per day.

This stretch alone has cost the provincial government $565,381 to maintain over the past five years, according to data supplied by the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure.

A 19-kilometre road near the village of Mayfair gets 65 vehicle trips per day and has cost $756,908 over the past five years.

More than $6 million has been spent in the past five years maintaining these 10 least-used highways.

It's part of overall highways spending that exceeded $1.1 billion this year. That's triple the budget of a decade earlier.

By comparison, 30,800 vehicles travel over Saskatchewan's most used road — Highway 5 west of Saskatoon's McOrmond Drive — every day.

SARM wants more spent on roads 

Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities president Ray Orb said the government could pass off responsibility for highways to municipalities, but only if there was adequate funding. Orb said overall road funding should be increased.
University of Saskatchewan economist Eric Howe says the Saskatchewan government spent wildly on highways and other sectors and will now have to make some tough decisions. (CBC)

"The rural municipalities contribute a lot to the GDP. We need to have that funding," Orb said. "The province should not cut that funding. We need to stimulate the economy."

University of Saskatchewan economist Eric Howe said the government spent wildly during the resource boom of the past decade, and highways were no exception.

The boom is done and overall public debt has reached $14 billion, Howe noted.

He said the best way for government to deal with the deficit would have been to control spending in the first place.

"They didn't, and now they're faced with the unenviable task of disappointing a whole lot of people," Howe said.

"When you're spending money like there's no tomorrow, it's extremely difficult to cut back."

In advance of the March 22 provincial budget, the CBC is examining how people in Saskatchewan are impacted, and possible solutions to the projected deficit.


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.