Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is committing the Manitoba government to twin Highway 17 between the Manitoba/Ontario border and Falcon Lake, in response to a local family’s call to action.

Earlier this month, Peter Lugli, the brother of Dryden’s Mark Lugli and uncle of Jacob Lugli – who passed away in a tragic accident in the Falcon Lake area three years ago – had sent an open letter to the Premier calling for the highway to be twinned.

The Lugli’s say they were hoping to prevent any more tragedies along that 17-kilometer section of single-lane highway, noting over 5,000 northwestern Ontario residents drive across it every day.

Premier Stefanson had previously extended her sincere condolences to the family and promised she and Manitoba’s Minister of Infrastructure, Doyle Piwniuk, would review the situation and look for improvements after a request from Q104 and KenoraOnline.

Now, Stefanson has sent a letter to the Lugli family confirming that the Manitoba government will twin Highway 17 between the Manitoba/Ontario border and 5 kilometres west of Provincial Road 301 in the Falcon Lake area.

“The family is elated with the Premier’s response,” said Peter Lugli, in an interview with Q104 after the family received the letter.

“Our family’s objective from the very beginning was to raise awareness of the section of road here so the tragic circumstances that Mark and Jacob’s passing could at least result in some goodness. We’re elated with the decision the Premier has made to commit the government to make this happen,” he adds.

Stefanson says the first phase of the project will include tendering and awarding contracts to engineers for the conceptual and functional design studies, which will need to take place before environmental assessment work. A timeline for the project is expected to be announced this fall.

“Twinning the Highway will significantly improve safety for motorists, and our government is committed to getting the job done,” said Stefanson, in her letter. “Our government is also committed to engaging with stakeholders early and throughout the duration for the project, including Indigenous Rights Holders in the region.”

The Manitoba government notes that they have made safety improvements to that section of the highway in the past such as brush trimming and ‘no stopping’ signs, although, as the Lugli family notes, much of the work was in place when the tragic accident took place.

On July 21, 2019, Mark Lugli, 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 when a semi swerved into their lane to avoid another vehicle that had stopped and was turning left, killing the two Drydenites instantly.

“If we can prevent one accident from happening, this will have been all worth it,” adds Peter. “We can’t say enough about the Premier’s commitment to this. We’re thrilled. We’re hopeful that motorists in northwestern Ontario, Manitoba and elsewhere, will be able to go on their journeys a little more safely in the years to come.”

In Ontario, Northern Development Minister and Kenora-Rainy River MPP, Greg Rickford, has estimated that our twinning project to the Manitoba border could wrap up by 2025.

“Our government is encouraged by Premier Stefanson’s commitment to twin Manitoba’s section of Highway 17 between the provincial border and Falcon Lake,” said Rickford, in a prepared statement to Q104 and KenoraOnline. 

“This is another step towards improving road safety for families and for goods and services across Northern Ontario. We look forward to our continued work with the province of Manitoba to see this project through.”

Phase one of work between the border and the junction of Highway 673 and the TransCanada began in March of 2022. The second phase is set for an 8.5 km stretch between Highway 673 and Rush Bay Road, with the third phase set for 25 km between Rush Bay Road and Highway 17A.