Saskatchewan’s highway network consists of 26,250 km of roads, or roughly 14% of the province’s entire rural road network. Saskatchewan’s highway and municipal road networks together constitute the largest rural road system in Canada, totaling over 190,000 km. In 1905, the province assumed responsibility for its roads from the federal government. Development of rural roads was moderate through the 1920s (the government had completed 4,200 km of provincial highway by 1927), but virtually non-existent through the Depression. Roadway construction boomed in the 1950s, propelling Saskatchewan’s rural road network into national distinction as Canada’s most extensive provincial road system. In 1950 the province signed the Trans-Canada Highway Act, which provided funding for constructing the local portion of the proposed transcontinental highway paralleling the Canadian Pacific Railway main line. Seven years later, on August 21, 1957, Premier T.C. Douglas officially opened Saskatchewan’s new 650-km east-west stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway. The Yellowhead Highway soon after became eligible for federal assistance, as did Highways 6, 7, 11, and 39. Each of these provincial highways was an important link in the national highway system, and was therefore entitled to funding under the National Highways Project.
Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation is responsible for planning and developing transportation policy and for constructing, maintaining, operating, and regulating the province’s highway network. In the past 50 years, the department has made significant progress in converting highway surfaces from gravel to thin pavements and asphalt; this conversion increases the highways’ capacity to accommodate greater traffic volumes, especially truck traffic. Until 1960 the majority of Saskatchewan’s highways were gravel; by 1980, pavements and dust-free surfaces had become the dominant surface types. Today, roughly 51% (13,460 km) of Saskatchewan’s highway network is paved; 26.5% (6,960 km) has been treated with a thin-membrane dust-free surface; 22% (5,700 km) remains gravel; and 0.5% (131 km) is ice road.
Saskatchewan’s highways are traditionally classified into four categories: major arterial, minor arterial, collector, and local. Traffic volumes and construction standards are generally based upon these classifications. Major arterial highways move large volumes of provincial and international traffic at high speeds and under free-flowing conditions, serve urban centres of more than 10,000 people, and accommodate more than 1,000 vehicles per day. Minor arterial highways link cities and towns of 1,000 to 5,000 people, and are distributed across the province in proportion to population density. Collector highways are of inter-municipal rather than provincial importance, and link towns and villages with populations of less than 1,000. Local highways provide access to adjacent land.
A second and more recent categorization scheme groups all provincial highways and municipal roads into seven classes based on their social, economic, and connective function. Classes 1 and 2 carry the highest traffic volumes, and connect major cities and regional service centres with populations greater than 1,000. Classes 3, 4, and 5 link communities with populations of less than 1,000, and give access to large parks and industrial sites. Classes 6 and 7 carry the least traffic and provide access only to individual residences, small parks and industrial sites, farmland, and other properties. Approximately 38% of Saskatchewan’s highways are designated as class 1 or 2, and 62% as class 3, 4, or 5.
Saskatchewan’s primary highways are numbered 1 through 40, have speed limits ranging from 90 to 110 km/hr, and connect all of the province’s major cities. Principal east-west arterial routes include: Highway 1 (Trans-Canada) across southern Saskatchewan, through Regina, Moose Jaw, and Swift Current; Highway 16 (Yellowhead) through the province’s parkland region, via Yorkton, Saskatoon, North Battleford, and Lloydminster; Highway 3 from the Manitoba border to Melfort and Prince Albert; Highways 7 and 14 from Saskatoon to the Alberta border; Highway 10 east from Balgonie to Yorkton and the Manitoba border; Highway 13 from Manitoba to the Alberta border via Carlyle and Weyburn; and Highway 40 from Prince Albert to North Battleford.
Major north-south arteries include: Highway 6 from Montana to Regina and Melfort; Highway 11 from Regina to Saskatoon and Prince Albert; Highway 4 from Montana to Swift Current and North Battleford; Highway 2 from Moose Jaw to Prince Albert and La Ronge; Highway 9 from North Dakota to Yorkton and Hudson Bay; Highway 35 from North Dakota to Weyburn; and Highway 39 from Moose Jaw to Weyburn, Estevan, and the US border. Only Highways 1, 11, and 16 have sections of divided highway. The Trans-Canada Highway (#1) is twinned from Wolseley to the Alberta border; Highway 11 from Regina to Saskatoon; and the Yellowhead route (#16) from Saskatoon to North Battleford, and from Maidstone to Lloydminster. The twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway in Saskatchewan is scheduled for completion in 2007.