Enhancing the Resilience of Manitoba’s Winter Roads System

By Jo-Ellen Parry, Susan Taylor on May 6, 2014

Thousands of people in the Canadian Province of Manitoba live in communities that are inaccessible by permanent conventional roads or railways.

For these communities, the province’s network of winter roads are critical to the provision of infrastructure and essential goods, economic development and the maintenance of social networks. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, warmer-than-average winter temperatures and fluctuating ice and water levels decreased the number of days in which the winter road system was open. The economic consequences were considerable—approximately $15 million to $18 million in additional costs—as necessary goods needed to be flown into the remote communities.

This case study documents how Manitoba has since sought to increase the resiliency of its winter roads system in light of the potential impacts of a changing climate. Based on scientific research, risk management planning, an informal cost assessment and concerns about public safety, the province has responded by upgrading its winter road network, progressively relocating roads away from water bodies and constructing new roads on overland routes. As highlighted in the case study, these changes were enabled by:

  • Policy coherence: the initiative fit into the provincial government's broad northern development strategy because of the positive socioeconomic impact of the winter road system on Northern communities.
  • Opportunities management: Manitoba was able to take advantage of an ongoing research initiative to share the cost of developing the temperature projections and regression models that informed decision-makers about likely changes in the winter road season.
  • Stakeholder engagement: provincial government officials brought scientists and key decision-makers together and advocated for the project.
  • Policy flexibility: the winter road network is already a responsive and adaptable system, as it is rebuilt on an annual basis, which contributed to the initiative’s success
  • Framing of the issue: framing this initiative in a risk-management context was found to be an effective way to appeal to policy-makers.

Report details

Climate Change Adaptation
Focus area
IISD, 2014