Are the Jetsons Passing through?
Back in October, there was a summit meeting held in Kenmare that brought Saskatchewan and North Dakota transportation officials together to consider improvements on U.S. Highway 52 and Saskatchewan Provincial Highway 39.
By Marvin Baker
Both highways meet at the 24-hour port of entry in Portal.
As you might imagine, a number of benefits were generated by that meeting that included the continuation of a committee that brought everyone together.
But this summit meeting also brought together several people from North Dakota and Saskatchewan whose vision for these two highways are completely different than what most of us are thinking.
Take, for instance, the North Dakota Automated Vehicle Collaborative. This is an organization that is obviously looking into a crystal ball and seeing 50 years into the future.
David Blair, a Bismarck man who represented NDAVC at the summit, said he wants to see a “wi-fi highway” between Minot and Regina but also intends it run on U.S. Highway 83 south.
Blair wants to see autonomous vehicles rolling up and down U.S. 83 and 52 and Provincial 39, delivering goods as part of international trade.
That means the trucks wouldn’t have drivers. They would pull up to the Canadian border, get inspected and move out toward Regina.
In addition, it’s Blair’s idea to see drones delivering products along the way. Let’s say, for instance, an autonomous truck takes freight to the John Deere dealership in Washburn. The truck is unloaded, and a drone delivers a part to the farmer who ordered it.
Imagine a highway, or actually two highways, through North Dakota with this kind of activity. It is happening in Nevada and California, and Blair strongly believes it can and will happen here.
How will regular motorists react to trucks without drivers? Imagine how quickly parts can be delivered by drone? Think about what this will do for high-speed Internet in this rural state?
Several members of the Central North American Free Trade Corridor Association are promoting trade between Canada, the United States and Mexico.
In fact, this group would like to see a “freeway” from Monterrey, Mexico to Churchill, Manitoba, which is on the Hudson Bay.
It includes trucks, airplanes and rail, moving freight to and from and to numerous locations in between. The association believes the Canadian border could be a hurdle, but they are willing to work through it.
Perhaps the most futuristic ideas came from Barry Harris, who is a member of the CNAFTCA, but didn’t speak at the summit.
Harris, a retired accountant who lives in North Portal, Saskatchewan, makes the Jetsons look like a bunch of frontier cowboys.
His idea, through this central corridor, is to move freight and people, much like Steve Pedersen talked about during his earlier summit presentation.
However, Harris wants to see it done in a vacuum tube.
Yes, a vacuum tube train that can take you from Bismarck to Dallas in about 15 minutes, and you wouldn’t feel the G-force because it is in a vacuum.
He said it would take some power to get the thing moving, but during the slow-down, regenerative braking would provide the energy for the next take off.
There are experiments regarding this type of travel that is often called “hyperloop,” going on from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Denver to Colorado Springs.
Could it work in North Dakota and/or Saskatchewan? Perhaps, but according to Harris, it wouldn’t do a lot of good on short distances such as Bismarck to Minot or Minot to Estevan.
Harris’ real clincher is in moving crude oil from the Canadian Tar Sands on rail to refineries in Texas.
He said we don’t need Keystone XL because to move crude oil through a pipeline, inert ingredients need to be added for the flow to be efficient.
And when asked about running the risk of another Lac Megantic, Harris explained that Tar Sands oil turns to “peanut butter”, and if a leak happens, duct tape will close the leak.
Harris is known in southeast Saskatchewan for looking at things in unique ways. To him, it’s far more important to peer into the future and embrace the technology than it is to live in the past.
Whatever does or doesn’t happen, the road from Regina to Minot is changing, and many at the summit want it to be cutting edge.