Traffic flow increase when the Wanipigow silica sand mine is underway will barely be noticeable

By Don Norman

Much ballyhoo has been made in recent months about the concerns over traffic jams once the Canadian Premium Sand (CPS) mine is operational.
A recent article in the Winnipeg Free Press by local environmental activist Don Sullivan is the latest salvo aimed at scuttling the operation before it starts.

Sullivan rightly points out that cottager traffic in peak times is already a steady stream of traffic. He claims the additional pressure on the traffic system will have disastrous results.

But let’s take a closer look at these numbers.

First of all, the planned route that CPS trucks will be taking is down 304, from Wanipigow, across highway 11 in Powerview-Pine Falls to Highway 59, then on to Winnipeg. The environmental assesment that CPS recently submitted says that there will be 3-4 trucks per hour leaving the mine, 24/7. Earlier documentation from CPS said 3-5 trucks per hour. Sullivan uses 5 per hour (120 per day) for his calculations. To make the comparisons easier, I will also use that number.

So, what is this going to look like?

Objectively, 304, south of highway 11 is the biggest concern. It’s a curvy section of road with no shoulders and people die on that stretch of road with alarming regularity (the most recent fatality was covered in these pages last month).

According to the Manitoba Highway Traffic Information System, the average daily traffic flow on that section of 304 is 1230 vehicles per day. If you add 240 trucks per day, that is close to a 20% increase in traffic. But it’s an interesting side note that 2012 (when there was presumably more traffic coming from the mine in Bissett), the traffic flow reached an average of 1380 per day. So, when looked at with those numbers, it’s only an 8% increase in traffic flow. But even looking at the 20% figure, at 1230 vehicles per day, you’d pass approximately 4.5 vehicles in the ten minutes it takes to navigate those curves. The number of vehicles you would pass after the CPS mine is in operation? 5.2.

But also keep in mind, those trucks are being loaded 24/7. So, that traffic is spread throughout the entire period. So, half of that additional traffic would happen between midnight and 6 am when there is barely anyone on that stretch of road. So, essentially, there is zero difference.

2017 data of the average daily traffic flow of the highways in question. These numbers averaged over the course of the entire year and don’t take into account higher summer traffic volumes in the Beaches. Source: Manitoba Highway Traffic Information System.

Once that traffic reaches highway 59, the problem becomes even less significant. The average traffic flow on Highway 59 south of 304 is 3820 vehicles per day. So, now we are talking about a 6% increase in flow. Let’s do the same calculation. In the 10 minutes you would take to drive from Highway 304 to where 59 divides, currently you’d pass 13.5 vehicles, with the additional volume, that number would increase to 14.2.

But peak times on that stretch of highway probably sees flows of five times what it is on average (maybe more). So, during those times, instead of passing 67.5 vehicles in that 10 minutes, you’d pass 68.2. So, we are talking about a 1% (at most) increase in traffic flow on that stretch. I very much doubt anyone would notice the difference.

Still, while the traffic flow itself is clearly of no discernible concern, there is the question of wear and tear that these heavy trucks will have on the roads in use.

As is the case with any commercial enterprise using public roads in the Province, CPS will be required to compensate the province for its designated portion of any increased maintenance resulting from its use of the roads.

However, it is significant to note that according to Bronwyn Weaver, Communications & Community Liaison Officer for CPS, Manitoba Infrastructure and CPS are in agreement that “certain sections of the proposed haul route have been in desperate need of proper maintenance, repair and upgrading for more than a decade – long before CPS proposed to use these roads.”

Weaver said that CPS is willing to go well beyond what is called for by rules and regulations to ensure the safety of the community and CPS drivers.

“CPS fully understands that this is a unique opportunity to improve people’s lives, including the driving public, and this will require a close collaboration with Manitoba Infrastructure to make this a reality,” said Weaver.

A cynic could say those are just words from a corporate spokesperson and are meaningless, but I tend to lean towards optimism.

Perhaps this new venture will not only provide jobs and economic growth, but also some much needed upgrades that could save lives.