What highways can be twinned?

Pictou-Advocate-opinion

We don’t always get what we want or need.

We may not get all the work recommended in the province’s most recent study about improvements to Nova Scotia’s 100 Series highways and how tolls may pay for their construction and upkeep.

About 225 people attended the first of a schedule of consultations regarding the work that took place last week at the Pictou County Wellness Centre. A full discussion during table sessions and a question period that followed the presentation revealed strong, but not total, acceptance of the estimated cost of tolling these new roads, including a twinned section of Highway 104.

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Tolls’ costs are based on traffic volume and would not be high on the stretch of Highway 104 between Sutherlands River and Antigonish that is ranked third on the province’s 100 Series priority list. Highway 101 from Avonport to Coldbrook and Highway 103 from Tantallon to Bridgewater are rated higher.

While some people in the business community are concerned about how tolls would add to their overhead and make them less competitive, most people who spoke welcomed the tolls as a way to get the work done more quickly than the conventional way. It took two years to build the Cobequid Pass that is tolled and 20 years between design and completion of the twinned section around Antigonish that is not tolled.

Also, the tolling options have moved well past manually paying at a toll booth. There are ways to absorb the cost without having to pass it on to others.

Highways need to be paid for somehow, and all eight projects are estimated to cost $2 billion. That cost will rise, the longer it takes to do the work.

Tolls are also a way to top up the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal’s annual operating and capital budgets. Graphs shared show a $30 million shortfall between what is spent and the revenue sources that include vehicle licensing and registration. That $30 million could be diverted to help us in different ways elsewhere.

Even with tolls, we may have to think about what we can afford to do now and what can be done later, given that officials at the consultation suggested it would take 10 years to do all eight projects – with tolls.

Here are some suggestions. Twin Highway 101 to Coldbrook. Wait on the section around Windsor. Twin Highway 103 to the existing four-lane section between Exits 9 and 10. At the very least, run two lanes or four lanes around the current section through Marshy Hope, however it’s required to go over, around or through the landscape. Complete the section of Highway 107.

Extend Highway 104 in Cape Breton to Johnstown and Irish Cove. This may not be the right idea, but it is food for thought and represents the bare minimum that needs to be done