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Perimeter Highway closure during snowfall leaves questions about communication

Heavy snowfall in Manitoba saw the closure of the Perimeter Highway overnight.

It reopened again Thursday morning, but there are renewed questions about the effectiveness of how such closures are communicated, particularly with an uptick in how often the highway is closed.

Sgt. Paul Manaigre with Manitoba RCMP told 680 CJOB the increase in closures is justified because of increased traffic on the perimeter.

“When you’ve got snow falling, vehicles compact the snow and they actually make driving conditions worse ’cause it turns this snow into ice,” he said.

Though 511’s website and app update commuters on when the highway, or sections of it, is closed, Bob Morse, deputy reeve for the rural municipality of MacDonald’s, said not everyone has access to those updates.

“However, that seems to be the most logical system,” he said.

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Even so, “it’s only as good as how current it is, and … I understand from today, there was some frustration with that,” Morse said.

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If they are unable to access the update, or the system hasn’t been updated in time, he said there is little else one can do.

“There’s no signage with every road approaching the perimeter that says it’s closed. So unless you took the time to call to check on 511, or heard it on the radio or something, that it’s closed, you might not know that,” he said.

Of course, putting up more signage is “easier said than done,” Morse said.

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“There’s hundreds of roads that approach it.”

Manaigre said he is skeptical people don’t realize the road is closed, and that his gut tells him they ignore the message so they can get from Point A to Point B.

In this case, he said in an email that “means you may be charged under the Highway Traffic Act and could face a fine of up to $5000 if convicted.”

Morse said in some areas, there’s no choice but to touch the perimeter when commuting.

“The perimeter, in our municipality, is the single biggest piece of infrastructure affecting our entire municipality. Everywhere we come from, or anyone travelling through our municipality trying to get to the city or somewhere past, ultimately ends up either on the perimeter, crossing the perimeter or whatever,” he said.

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Global News asked the province Thursday about what more could be done in the way of signage and infrastructure, but did not receive a specific answer to that question.

“Decisions about highway closures are made by the RCMP. We always encourage Manitobans to drive safely, especially when driving around snow plows, and never drive on closed highways,” a provincial spokesperson said.

“Highway safety is an important issue for our government, and we are in the process of developing a permanent safety unit to make recommendations for how we can increase safety on Manitoba highways going forward.”

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Storm impacts on rural Manitoba

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