The eight-year wait is finally over.
The province officially re-opened Highways 415 and 416, east of Highway 6, on March 15 — after years of the roads being washed out and undriveable since flooding in 2011.
Interlake MLA Derek Johnson, who was a councillor with the RM of St. Laurent before making the jump to provincial politics with the Progressive Conservatives in 2016, campaigned hard on re-opening the roads. Three years later — more if you include his efforts as a municipal councillor — and he is thrilled to see the east-west travelling highways open once again.
“This is a tremendous step forward. They were closed in 2011 for the first flood and followed through 2014 when more water kept dumping into the Shoal Lakes,” Johnson told The Stonewall Argus & Teulon Times. “(As a councillor), I was lobbying for the roads to be built up and repaired back then, so it’s quite a moment to be able to follow something through all of those years and changes from municipal up to the provincial level and see some of your passions come to fruition.”
He isn’t the only one excited by the news.
Orval Procter, a councillor with the RM of Woodlands and the head of the Shoal Lakes Flooded Landowners, said the re-opening of the highways is a big deal for the south Interlake region.
“After 2011, there was 500 square miles of no north-south or east-west connection (in the area),” Procter said. “Since (Highway) 518 went in a few years ago there was at least a north-south connection to (Highway) 323, but they still had no east-west connection in that area.
“This is big for transportation, emergency and general business. People in St. Laurent can now go straight across to Teulon again.”
“A lot of our children used to go back and forth from the St. Laurent area, going to Inwood and Teulon schools and vice-versa,” he said. “Also, when we are fighting fires, it’s such a short distance to come across and having your mutual aid to come around the lake and help in aiding with fighting fires.
“We now have a new ambulance bay in St. Laurent, and when somebody is on call on the other side of the lakes they can go straight across at 415 now, but… it’s much, much bigger than that. There’s hockey moms that are running back and forth, and it’s common for teams in the Interlake to continue to play one another and it was such an added distance to go around the lake.
“It’s much more than safety. It’s a good thing for the whole community.”
When Highway 415 and 416 were closed, a trip around the lake via Highway 323 or 229 was an estimated 140 kilometres one way. That trip will be cut almost in half.
“The highways department themselves were really wanting to spend the money and for Derek Johnson, the MLA for St. Laurent, it was part of his election campaign to try and get this road open,” Procter said. “He understood how important these roads are for the people in the area. He worked very hard with infrastructure minister Ron Schuler as well, to put everything together to get it done.”
The only question that remains, is will the province receive Disaster Financial Assistance from Ottawa to cover 90% of the costs to making the road to the level it was at prior to flooding earlier this decade.
Added improvements are not covered under the cost of the project, which Johnson estimates will be just over $1 million when all the figures are added up.
He and Procter both believe the federal goverment will award the province DFA for rebuilding Highways 415 and 416.
“They should qualify for it because it couldn’t be done before now and they were named in the destruction of 2011,” Procter said.
“All we can do as a provincial government is submit the claims, and as long as long as they fall into the categories, which I feel this would, absolutely,” Johnson added. “There’s a big chance of getting up to 90 cents on the dollar back on those particular roads.”