WARNING: This article details the death of two local community members and may be upsetting for some readers. Canadians can access free 24/7 mental health and substance abuse support at 1-866-585-0445.
The family of two northwestern Ontario residents who passed away in a fatal collision three years ago is pleading with the Manitoba government to twin their portion of the TransCanada Highway.
Peter Lugli, the brother of Dryden’s Mark Lugli and uncle of Jacob Lugli, has sent an open letter to Manitoba’s Premier Heather Stefanson, saying the over 5,000 drivers from Manitoba and Ontario who travel along a 17-kilometre single-lane stretch between the Ontario border and Falcon Lake are at risk.
“It’s time to act,” writes the Lugli’s. “Homeowners, cottagers, truckers, motorists and their passengers, and legislators of all stripes agree that the untwinned section of road is unreasonably and increasingly dangerous. It is past the time of thoughtful review. It is time for thoughtful engineering and roadwork.”
In an interview with Q104, KenoraOnline and DrydenNow, Peter says through the letter to the Premier, the family is hoping to prevent any future tragedies for the area – noting they’re less a question of if, than when.
“Discussions are ongoing and they’ve been positive,” adds Peter. “But the time for thoughtful review has come and gone. It’s time now to put pylons and road signs up, so that people can rest assured this kind of thing won’t happen again. And we’ve heard a lot of people with the same point of view. But we are looking, as a lot of people are, for an actual commitment.”
On July 21, 2019, Mark, the 54-year-old principal of St. Joseph's School and his son, Jacob, a 17-year-old DHS graduate and the Eagles’ Male Athlete of the Year, were on their way to Selkirk for a golf tournament.
The Lugli’s say shortly after crossing the border at a section of single-lane highway near Barren Lake, an oncoming transport truck swerved to avoid a vehicle that had completely stopped as it was trying to turn left into the Barren Lake area, and the truck swerved directly into the path of Mark and Jacob’s vehicle, killing them instantly.
“We thought that if any good was to come out of this, it needs to be a focus on the Manitoba side to essentially replicate what Ontario’s doing – to minimize the risk of this kind of tragedy ever happening again by investing what’s required to twin that section of the road,” adds Peter.
Now, longtime Dryden resident Bonny Skene has put her support behind the letter, signing it as a concerned motorist from northwestern Ontario.
“Anyone who has travelled across northwestern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba on that single-lane highway knows that given the amount of traffic, it can be very dangerous – not just because it’s a single-lane highway, but it involves very long stretches without passing lanes, rest stops or major destinations.”
She adds that not only is the TransCanada a vital roadway for residents, but she has seen the impacts that a highway closure can have on the supply of materials and equipment throughout the region.
“This highway is a national transportation corridor. Goods are headed west and trucked through every day. It’s unthinkable in this day and age that because of a tragic accident on the TransCanada, the single road that links us coast to coast, there are times when there are no detours and nowhere to go in -40. That’s unacceptable. We live that very regularly. It’s time that it be twinned for our safety.”
Skene notes Manitoba beginning to work on their section of the TransCanada would line up perfectly with Ontario beginning work to twin its section of the highway between Kenora and the Manitoba border earlier this year.
“Twinning doesn’t eliminate the possibility of accidents, but it allows traffic to proceed at their own pace, without causing frustration. It’s a perfect opportunity for Manitoba to step up. Why not get it done all at once?”
Ontario’s 2022-2023 budget, A Plan to Build, which still needs to be passed – says the first phase of construction between the Manitoba border and the junction of Highway 673 and the TransCanada is set to finish by the summer of 2024, after work officially began in March, 2022.
The second phase of the twinning project would include an 8.5 km stretch between Highway 673 and Rush Bay Road, with the final stretch being 25 km between Rush Bay Road and Highway 17A. Although, both phases still need environmental assessments and support from the Four Winds group.
Ontario’s Northern Development Minister and Kenora-Rainy River MPP, Greg Rickford, has estimated that the entire project could wrap up by 2025, and has previously spoken about the need to get Manitoba on board with their side of the twinning work.
The Lugli’s are asking residents to send letters to Premier Stefanson with their support for the twinning work to firstname.lastname@example.org
Their open letter notes the driver of the transport truck, who was 22 years old at the time and is from the Mississauga area, will face sentencing for the collision on August 24. Q104, KenoraOnline and DrydenNow could not independently confirm this information with Manitoba’s Prosecution Services.
The family reserved comment on the ongoing court proceedings.
Requests for information have been filed with the Office of Manitoba’s Premier as well as Manitoba’s Ministry of Infrastructure. As of the time of publishing, requests have not been returned.