Residents rejecting P3 Highway 104 model

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Glasgow Square was full last week as CUPE hosted a Highway 104 twinning meeting regarding the Public Private Partnership or P3 proposal for the deadly stretch between Pictou County and Antigonish.

That stretch of highway, which is still single lane, is set to become the first privately maintained and owned non-toll highway in Nova Scotia. During the town hall meeting it was noted a familiar example of a P3 highway that has been tolled is the stretch of highway known as the Cobequid Pass.

The first of the panel to speak at the meeting was organizer Govind Rao representing CUPE.

“What we don’t know is the government’s reasoning for this,” he said. Currently, the timeline in place for the project is to have bids in by October 2019 and the winner of the bids will be announced in spring 2020. Government had already identified companies that would be capable of taking on a project like this.

Rao cited the P3 projects in Ontario and former projects in New Brunswick as examples of why the highways do not work. Safety is one of the main concerns he cited; as companies operate these highways to make a profit they have been found to skimp on maintenance such as snow clearing and salting to save money. Cost is another large factor as Rao said the government cited that the highway will cost less for the public; however, after analysis of the numbers, Rao and others have found that it will cost more, not less.

Echoing safety concerns, panellist Christopher Majka, who also wrote a study on this matter, said he believes the highway will end up costing Nova Scotians $52.6 million more once interest to the company is paid off.

The panel also featured Joey Kelly, a New Brunswick highway worker who spoke from experience about the dangers of the P3 system based on the highways that had been operating in the province previously and have since been phased out due to lack of reliability and cost. He added that the highway would cost $7,753 per lane kilometre for the province to keep up and around $45,940 for one of the contractors to maintain.

“I hope you guys can turn it around and get away from these P3 highways like we did in New Brunswick,” he said.

During the question period, residents who had come to hear more about the system agreed that the highway model should be rejected in favour of traditional funding and maintenance of highways rather than a privatized system.

A full house came out to hear about the Public Private Partnership or P3 model for the twining of the TransCanada Highway 104 during a town hall meeting hosted at Glasgow Square last week. (Brimicombe photo)