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Highway 3 routine unchanged

Compliments about potholes or are they personal?

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 18/02) - One of the harshest critics of the Transportation Department last week became a big fan, but the department says the rationale for the compliments does not wash.

In a Jan. 10 letter sent to all MLAs, North Slave MLA Leon Lafferty praised new Transportation Minister Joe Handley, deputy minister Peter Vician and departmental staff for the improved maintenance on Highway 3.

But Vician said the department is not doing anything new.

"We've basically been doing the same level of attention and effort on the highway," said the deputy minister. "Perhaps we're just catching up to the fall impact."

Vician said heavy traffic and rain in the late summer and early fall led to a number of "blowouts" along the 60-kilometre section of the highway yet to be paved.

Blowouts are caused when the surface crust is broken. Once the loose gravel below is exposed, deep holes and washboards quickly form. There is some speculation the letter may have been a backhanded slap at Handley's predecessor, former Transportation Minister Vince Steen. Lafferty was highly critical of Steen's handling of the transportation portfolio.

"If Joe (Handley) was successful in convincing him there's no potholes, that's the way to go, man," said Steen.

The Nunakput MLA said Lafferty has now as critical of the department of Municipal and Community Affairs as he once was of Transportation. Steen was appointed MACA minister in the November cabinet shuffle.

Another ardent critic of the condition of the road between the city and Rae said she has no reason to believe anything has changed. Sandy Lee, MLA for Range Lake, said she has not driven the highway recently but added, "Funding has stayed the same, the road is still narrow, there's still heavy traffic."

Vician said road maintenance is easier in winter than in summer. Once it freezes, the road becomes more resistant to blowouts. Those that do occur can be fixed by replacing the lost gravel and sealing it by adding water.

Deh Cho MLA Michael McLeod drives the road three or four times a month, travelling between the capital and his Fort Providence home.

"I haven't seen any dramatic changes," McLeod said, adding good weather over the past few weeks has helped. He said that during his drive to town on Sunday he noticed seven places between here and Rae where tire tracks led into the ditch.

Calls to Lafferty were not returned by deadline.