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Manitoba winter road system completed

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by Richard Gilbert

Contractors have completed work on Manitoba’s winter road system, despite fears climate change was a threat to construction. The network stretches thousands of kilometres into the province’s most remote communities.

Contractors have completed work on Manitoba’s winter road system, despite fears climate change was a threat to construction. The network stretches thousands of kilometres into the province’s most remote communities.

“This year we had no problems, except the temperature was about -2 to -3 Celsius,” said George Boyd, southern manager for Norwin Construction.

“But after the winter holidays, the temperature went down to -7 to -8 C and then the really cold weather set in.”

The Manitoba government announced earlier this month that about 2,200 kilometres of winter roads were open.

“The only challenge we had is we didn’t have enough snow until the last few weeks,” said Boyd.

“But it snowed and the road system is quite good.”

Every year, the provincial winter road system allows large trucks and other vehicles to move more than 2,500 shipments of basic supplies, such as food and fuel, to about 30,000 people in 23 remote communities.

Norwin Construction is a partnership between the Island Lake Tribal Council and the Southeast Tribal Council. The partnership builds ice roads to provide access for residents in areas without permanent roads.

With the first snow of winter, lightweight equipment, such as snowmobiles, are used to pack the snow on both land and ice before a heavy frost.

The packing removes air from the snow, so the frost penetrates deeper into the ground and freezes swamps.

As the ground hardens, heavy graders and snowplows are used to scrape away excess snow, while keeping the roadway covered with enough snow to remain reflective. This ensures that heat from the sun is not absorbed and the road remains frozen.

The roads are inspected on a daily basis.

“The winter road system typically opens fully in mid-February,” explained John Thorpe, spokesperson for the Manitoba government.

“This has been the trend for many years. Construction usually starts in December and that is when it started this year.”

Colder temperatures this year allowed construction crews to make good progress in preparing the roads to be opened and created ice thick enough to support large trucks.

However, some routes have weight restrictions for the time being.

“In general, the timing of our winter roads schedule has not changed much in over five years,” said Thorpe.

“We get the system opened up as soon as possible and run it as long as safely possible.”

The typical winter road season lasts eight to 12 weeks, ending in March.

“It is impossible to say how long the season will be — it depends on the weather,” said Thorpe.

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