With his wife struggling to breathe Saturday, Russ Mohr watched as the ambulance he called went whipping by on the north Perimeter Highway looking for a place to access Sturgeon Road.
"I’m pretty pissed off, you know," Mohr said, calling for Sturgeon Road access to be reopened at the Perimeter.
The ambulance could have avoided a long, roundabout detour if Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure hadn’t ripped up the median in September to prevent vehicles from crossing the Perimeter. The department says it’s removing many local access points to make the highway encircling Winnipeg safer for increased traffic and to support an international trade hub in a city expected to eventually grow to one million people.
The median opening at Sturgeon Road and south access from the Perimeter was closed to eliminate dangerous left turns at Sturgeon by moving them to safer intersections, a government spokesman said. A detour is required to get to Sturgeon Road both north and south of the Perimeter — area residents say that’s a problem when minutes count.
Nicole Dureault-Mohr suffered an asthma attack, on top of having COVID-19, Saturday afternoon.
Her husband called 911 and went to the end of their driveway near Sturgeon Road on the north side of the Perimeter to watch for the ambulance in case it had problems finding them or accessing the road.
While his 60-year-old wife struggled for air, Mohr struggled with what to do as the wait grew.
"Do I come back in the house, put her into my vehicle and drive towards the ambulance — where I think the ambulance is going to come?" Mohr said in an interview this week, saying he was worried help would arrive too late. "Do I take her straight to the hospital, myself, and risk that?"
When he saw the ambulance on the eastbound lane of the Perimeter, he waved his arms; it flashed its lights acknowledging him but kept going because it couldn’t turn left onto Sturgeon Road.
It had to make a detour, driving to the next exit at Route 90, then backtrack to Sturgeon Road, which, for now, is still accessible from the westbound lane. It took the ambulance 45 minutes to arrive, Mohr said.
His wife was taken to Grace Hospital, treated and able to return home late that night.
Mohr said he’s worried the lack of access slows down emergency responders and the next person may not be as fortunate as his wife.
Shared Health confirmed there were delays in this case, but said they had nothing to do with road access.
"We believe lack of familiarity with the area resulted in some wayfinding challenges for the responding crew," a spokesman said Wednesday.
The Medical Transportation Co-ordination Centre that receives, triages and dispatches all rural 911 calls in Manitoba uses a flexible dispatch model that assigns the closest available unit to a call, he said.
"In this instance, the responding crew was the closest to the area but was from another provincial zone," he said.
The co-ordination centre took part in meetings concerning changes to access and egress to and from the Perimeter Highway and ambulances in each provincial zone are aware of the changes to access, including those made to the northern section of the Perimeter in the past year, the Shared Health spokesman said.
Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure reviewed plans for restricting access to the Perimeter from Sturgeon Road with the Rural Municipality of Rosser’s emergency services and added an emergency vehicle turnaround between King Edward and Ritchie Street, a government spokesman said.
The turnaround is several kilometres away from Sturgeon Road, not properly marked and was not plowed during the winter, said Reeve Frances Smee.
"In general, it really does not provide reasonable access for emergency vehicles, and it certainly does not provide reasonable emergency access to the area between highways 6 and 7," said the reeve, who has a meeting next week with Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk to discuss access concerns.
"It is one of the issues we want to work with the province to improve. The safety issues are what keep us up at night. It’s impossible to get off the highway as you’re going east until you come to Highway 7 from (Hwy.) 6."
There is alternate access available to all locations where the median was closed or uncontrolled access to the Perimeter was removed, and the infrastructure department has discussed the project on numerous occasions with the RM to identify concerns and develop solutions, the government spokesman said.
The province consulted virtually with concerned residents in July, said community member Val Gough. At first, she was opposed to restricting access to the Perimeter because of its inconvenience. Since she’s seen the impact of the loss of access at Sturgeon Road, Gough’s concern has shifted to safety.
"It’s a lifeline for the community," said Gough, who commutes via the Perimeter to work in south Winnipeg.
She circulated a petition citing safety concerns and asking the province to reconsider removing local access to the Perimeter. It had 750 signatures when it was tabled in the legislative assembly on Nov. 26 by NDP infrastructure critic Matt Wiebe.
"There are safety improvements that can be made on the north Perimeter and we support those, but instead of making any announcements or improvements, essentially what the government did is they just went ahead and closed the access points and that created a whole host of other problems," said the MLA for Concordia.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.