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Author Topic: Road trip report: June-July 2015 in the "prairie provinces"  (Read 1986 times)

oscar

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Road trip report: June-July 2015 in the "prairie provinces"
« on: August 11, 2015, 08:52:33 PM »

My latest mega-road trip (and probably last for this year) included two and a half weeks in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. That was preceded and followed by some travel within the U.S., including the Extra Miler Club annual meeting, this year in Walmart-land in northwest Arkansas. To the extent my U.S. travel was otherwise interesting (such as I-41/US 41 in Wisconsin. and the latest on Corridor H in West Virginia) I've already posted about on other boards, so I'll focus here on the Canada part of my road trip.

This trip was largely for county-snagging purposes, to get closer to completing all of Canada's county equivalents (which might happen next year). I had already been to all the "census divisions" in Manitoba and Saskatchewan which is what the county-counting site mob-rule.com uses. But I'm uncomfortable with settling for that, since both provinces have smaller subdivisions (mainly "rural municipalities") that are functioning units of local government, and also more resemble the typical U.S. county in size than the much larger artificial divisions used by Statistics Canada. I managed to snag all but perhaps two of Manitoba's municipalities, and all of Alberta's counties and equivalents (including the newest ones not yet shown on mob-rule.com) except for a "save-for-last" jurisdiction in the southwest corner of the province. I still have about 120 left to visit in Saskatchewan (out of 296 rural municipalities total in the province -- way too many, IMO), but they're mostly south of TCH 16, making that a more manageable task.

I've posted already on this board on some of the highlights of my trip, MB 391 in northern Manitoba and the Deh Cho Bridge in the Northwest Territories. Some other random observations:

-- Rural and other municipality boundaries in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are often unmarked, and what markers there are don't follow a standard design you can look for. And census divisions are not marked at all. So it's not as easy as in the U.S. to confirm that you've crossed into a county (equivalent). Not helping things is that most maps don't show those boundaries, and the one mapmaker that was good at it (MapArt) is out of business. I used official online maps showing municipal boundaries and major roads to plan my trip. I also brought a 2008 MapArt Back Roads atlas, as well as a more recent though still outdated MapArt Alberta atlas, for double-checking and on-the-fly itinerary adjustments.

-- My border crossings at some of the lesser-used ports of entry, into Canada at the MN 310/MB 310 crossing, and exiting at MB 30/ND 18, went smoothly, with only a quick peek into my trunk on entering Canada. The two and a half weeks in Canada on my itinerary seems to have headed off some of the border hassles I've encountered on shorter visits.

-- There are significant differences between the Manitoba and Saskatchewan primary and secondary highway systems. In Manitoba, you can count on good pavement and 100 km/h rural speed limits on most of its primary system (route numbers <200), though the easternmost part of MB 44 was twisty, slow, and the pavement was rather rough. The secondary routes are more hit-and-miss, with some good paved roads with 100 km/h speed limits, but also lots of gravel roads with 80 km/h limits. 

Saskatchewan, on the other hand, has many rural primary highways (route numbers < 400) that are gravel, and many of them were heavily potholed. They were not kind to my already cracked windshield (from a rock on a paved primary route), which I had to replace soon after crossing back into the U.S. The lower-numbered primary routes are more likely to be paved, but I drove several low-numbered gravel roads too. The primary route shield is thus much less of an assurance of road quality in Saskatchewan than in Manitoba. But at least there are more 110km/h speed limits in Saskatchewan than in Manitoba. I traveled few secondary highways in Saskatchewan, which were all gravel.

--In addition to my cracked windshield misadventure, I almost got rear-ended in dense morning fog on MB 83 north of Russell. The other driver was going way too fast in near-zero visibility. Fortunately, he did a last-second swerve onto the shoulder to get around me, with the only damage some small gravel dings on my passenger-side doors.

-- The Trans-Canada Highway routes are generally in pretty good shape in all of the provinces I visited. But part of TCH 1 east of Winnipeg was narrow, with a paved shoulder less than half a meter wide. I saw a bicyclist taking her life in her hands riding on that narrow shoulder (no reasonable alternate route at that location). Also, TCH 16 is a mess through Edmonton. Completing the AB 216 bypass (which maybe should become TCH 216?) next year will be a big help to through travelers.

-- As a bit of a nut about recycling the aluminum soda cans I go through, I kept tabs on the availability of recycle bins at roadside turnouts (not a lot of full rest areas in the prairie provinces) and other places. Northern Manitoba seems to be the best on recycling availability, but for some reason the southern part of the province is much less consistent. Alberta is pretty good about that too. Saskatchewan is definitely the worst, though Tim Hortons usually have recycle bins (one reason I like them better than McDonald's in Canada).

-- I drove AB 881 from Lac La Biche to Fort McMurray, then back down south on AB 63. AB 881 clips the corner of one of Alberta's newest county equivalents, Improvement District No. 349 (coextensive with a weapons range, otherwise open only to the military and workers on oil sands development projects). However, the "county line" is unmarked, except to indicate that you're entering Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality heading northbound, and Lac La Biche County heading southbound, so I'll have to trust the official and other maps that say I entered ID No. 349 and can cross that off my list.

Fort McMurray is not only the seat of the Wood Buffalo RM, but also a boom town fueled by oil sands development. There's lots of heavy equipment on the roads going there, and AB 63 is getting a lot of widening work to handle the traffic. I got there in the middle of the afternoon rush hour, where I got stuck in traffic on the ten-lane freeway passing through the city. I was running short on time, so I had to turn back south right after crossing the Athabasca River. I didn't think to stop at Fort McMurray's Oil Sands Discovery Centre, where I could've bought souvenirs to tweak some of my anti-Keystone pipeline friends back home.

-- AB 35 to the Northwest Territories, along with MB 6 from Winnipeg to Thompson (both of which I drove on this trip), remain near the top of my "most boring highways" list. But High Level, about halfway to NT, has significantly improved its traveler services, with a Tim Hortons and a Canadian Tire store recently opening there, and a good assortment of chain and other motels. There's almost none of that on MB 6, though there are more small communities than on AB 35 to lessen the monotony. Biting black flies were awful on both highways, but they were especially vicious on MB 6 near Grand Rapids.

--Wildfires were an issue on much of my trip, mainly in northern Saskatchewan and Alberta but the smoke reached as far southeast as Winnipeg. The fires didn't get in the way of my visit to the Deh Cho Bridge (though it was looking dicey for awhile), but they did keep me away from La Ronge SK. My plan had been to turn north toward La Ronge on SK 2 after a visit to Prince Albert National Park. But police were turning back northbound non-emergency traffic on SK 2 north of the northern park entrance, since wildfires forced evacuations of La Ronge residents. Some of them were sent to shelters in Alberta, since the ones in Saskatchewan were full already from evacuations of other northern Saskatchewan villages. Maybe I'll try again next year, time and fire conditions permitting.

-- I briefly visited the giant West Edmonton Mall, but I didn't have nearly enough time that Saturday evening to do more than scratch the surface, and send my sister a postcard of the indoor beach/waterpark. The mall seems much livelier than it was on my previous visit in 1994. Back then, there were duplicate department stores at each end of the mall, which the companies acquired through mergers and couldn't sublease to other tenants. There then were also showrooms for car dealerships. There's none of that now.
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SignGeek101

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Re: Road trip report: June-July 2015 in the "prairie provinces"
« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2015, 10:19:07 AM »

-- There are significant differences between the Manitoba and Saskatchewan primary and secondary highway systems. In Manitoba, you can count on good pavement and 100 km/h rural speed limits on most of its primary system (route numbers <200), though the easternmost part of MB 44 was twisty, slow, and the pavement was rather rough. The secondary routes are more hit-and-miss, with some good paved roads with 100 km/h speed limits, but also lots of gravel roads with 80 km/h limits.

After coming back from my trip out west, I can agree. Although MB 34 south of the Yellowhead was quite rough as well, and contained a 100 limit, Saskatchewan's highways were still worse than Manitoba's for the most part.

-- The Trans-Canada Highway routes are generally in pretty good shape in all of the provinces I visited. But part of TCH 1 east of Winnipeg was narrow, with a paved shoulder less than half a meter wide. I saw a bicyclist taking her life in her hands riding on that narrow shoulder (no reasonable alternate route at that location). Also, TCH 16 is a mess through Edmonton. Completing the AB 216 bypass (which maybe should become TCH 216?) next year will be a big help to through travelers.

A 2 km part of the Trans-Canada west of Winnipeg in Headingley was just twinned last November, because of the truck danger to that town. I think once Ontario starts twinning ON 17, Manitoba will finish twinning the TC, and make it wider hopefully.

There is currently quite a bit of construction along the Yellowhead and the TC 1 route in Manitoba. Mostly repaving. I recall parts of the TC 1 east of Portage la Prairie having gravel shoulders, this I believe is set to change along with the addition of rumble strip there. This will hopefully finish the paved shoulder bit on the TC, which the vast majority is already paved shoulder and rumble strip.

 


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