Friday 9 April 2021

In praise of paper roads

My column in the Stuff papers this week went through the merits of unformed legal roads - the paper roads that sit, waiting to be used.

We may need a few more of them.

New Zealand, like Canada, has road allowances, or “unformed legal roads”. But remaining unformed roads are not part of any systematic grid. They rather were set to ensure access to pieces of land that might otherwise be landlocked, to provide access along waterways, and to provide access to the coast.

Designating corridors for urban growth here has consequently been more difficult.

Manitoba’s land survey, 150 years ago, preserved space for roading. Here and now, it requires designating a corridor on top of land already owned and already in use. If the corridor comes to be used, the owner will be compensated under the Public Works Act. But the designation itself can impose uncompensated costs by introducing uncertainty. It is hard to make full use of your property if it hangs under the risk of compulsory acquisition for a road or highway.

Retrofitting a full prairie grid onto a topographically difficult country might not work.

But there could be promise in designating more corridors for growth well in advance of their being needed and compensating the owners of the designated land for the inconvenience. Then, when there is need for a road or busway, and the funding is lined up, council could exercise its option and use the corridor.

Here's what it looked like in Southern Manitoba. Our old farm is on the map there, south of Notre Dame. Every one of those big squares is one mile by one mile. You can see the quarter-sections within a lot of them. In a few places, like around Cardinal and Babcock, the terrain didn't allow the gridded roads to continue. So the road would wiggle a bit before snapping back to grid as soon as practicable. 

I love the bloodymindedness of it. There will be a road on the mile every mile, or allowance for one, and topographical disruptions can have only local effect. The grid must go on. 

You'll also notice an offset in the grid just north of Notre Dame de Lourdes. That's a correction line. Because a square grid doesn't sit well on a sphere, you need correction lines. As you move North from the US border, fewer square miles fit into the next row up. So the sections all offset by a bit at the correction lines. 

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