A plan is finally in motion to build a long-overdue 25-kilometre access road to an isolated and neglected northwestern Ontario First Nation community straddling the Ontario-Manitoba border.
Prior to the Manitoba government recessing for a provincial election in April, the East Side Road Authority was given political approval to expand beyond its borders and take on the so-called Freedom Road project for Shoal Lake 40.
The island community has received national attention for its forced isolation and enduring a boil water advisory for close to 20 years. The previous Harper government refused to allocate funding to the project, but the Trudeau government has pledged their commitment to finally connect the community to the outside world.
Under a three-way funding agreement, the Manitoba government, the City of Winnipeg and Ottawa have agreed in principle to provide dollars to build the all-season road.
With a price tag of $46.5 million, Ernie Gilroy, the East Side Road Authority’s CEO, said if all levels of government soon sign off on the funding package, construction could start this summer or fall.
Gilroy expects to have the road’s detailed design from AECOM in hand by the end of April at which time the authority will prepare construction tenders.
Plans call for a gravel road, leading off the Trans-Canada Highway and west of Falcon Lake in Manitoba, running southeast to the community located just inside the Ontario border.
The community had been located on a peninsula until 1913 when it was cut off from the mainland by a diversion canal built to channel drinking water from Shoal Lake to the City of Winnipeg via an aqueduct.
A ferry is the only means of reaching the mainland during non-winter months. During freeze-up, residents haul supplies over the ice.
Two bridges are to be built, including one over the aqueduct, which, Gilroy said has been tendered and is part of the City of Winnipeg’s contribution.
It’ll be a two-year construction phase over terrain that’s mostly Canadian Shield rock.
“In terms of challenges, it’s a hard place to build a road,” said Gilroy, “but the east side of Lake Winnipeg is a hard place to build a road. That’s why we got involved in the situation because we have experience both building roads…and working with First Nations.”
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