Toll po­si­tion just one topic of meet­ing

Tor­rent of high­way com­plaints un­leashed about state of Cape Bre­ton roads

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON - BY CAPE BRE­TON POST STAFF news@cb­

Ask 100 or so Cape Bre­ton­ers to talk about high­ways and the con­ver­sa­tion is bound to take a few turns.

At least that was the case Tues­day night when the Nova Scotia Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Re­newal rolled into town to ask what peo­ple think about us­ing tolls to ac­cel­er­ate the twin­ning of the prov­ince’s high­ways. What fol­lowed was a tor­rent of com­plaints about the state of Cape Bre­ton’s roads — ev­ery­thing from the qual­ity of the paint used for high­way lines to the size of the rocks used to make as­phalt.

It was enough to drive univer­sity stu­dent Ken Carmichael to make an apol­ogy to the en­gi­neers and Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Re­newal rep­re­sen­ta­tives who wanted to know if there was even any in­ter­est in bring­ing two sec­tions of High­way 104 in Cape Bre­ton — a seven-kilo­me­tre stretch from Port Hast­ings to Port Hawkes­bury, and the roughly 84 kilo­me­tres from St. Peter’s to Syd­ney — up to 100-series stan­dards.

Carmichael, 20, who fre­quently trav­els from his home in Syd­ney River to Hal­i­fax where he at­tends Saint Mary’s Univer­sity, said it’s his gen­er­a­tion that will be us­ing — and pay­ing for — new high­ways, which he said are es­sen­tial to Nova Scotia be­ing a “21st-cen­tury, ad­vanced econ­omy.”

“We’ll be us­ing th­ese high­ways for the rest of our lives and we’ll be the ones who ac­tu­ally have to pay for them, so I think we have to def­i­nitely put that in per­spec­tive — that it’s the youth,” he said. “I drive th­ese high­ways once a week, or more of­ten than that, but I just want to apol­o­gize for the tone in the room tonight. I don’t know if it’s just an anti-Hal­i­fax at­ti­tude or just an is­sue with the high­ways and roads, but you could def­i­nitely talk to your MLAs about that. This is about high­way twin­ning, and I’m not an en­gi­neer — I don’t know about as­phalt use and ev­ery­thing — but I am an eco­nom­ics stu­dent, and I think the tolls is the only op­tion we have. I know taxes are high in Nova Scotia, but we’re a have-not prov­ince with a de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tion, and the only way we’re go­ing to be able to fund th­ese high­ways is to have tolls. I know it’s tough for peo­ple to talk about that but just look at the num­bers — govern­ment is go­ing to be spend­ing more and more money on other things like health care, so if we don’t have a user-paid sys­tem on high­ways we’re not go­ing to be able to have them.”

The Syd­ney meet­ing was one of 11 con­sul­ta­tion ses­sions be­ing held in com­mu­ni­ties across Nova Scotia as the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture gauges how peo­ple feel about us­ing tolls to pay to twin eight sec­tions of ma­jor Nova Scotia high­ways.

The prov­ince has said it would take them $2 bil­lion to build the in­fra­struc­ture, with the St. Peter’s to Syd­ney cost­ing the most by far —$491.3 mil­lion.

Parker Don­ham of Kempt Head said Cape Bre­ton’s ex­ist­ing roads are ne­glected, par­tic­u­larly a sec­tion if High­way 125 that has been plagued by se­ri­ous rut­ting that has made the area dan­ger­ous to drive.

“I would far rather drive in a snow­storm than drive on the 125 in a heavy rain. If you start to slide in a snow­storm and you’re an ex­pe­ri­enced driver, you know what to do to get back in con­trol. When you start to hy­droplane, it’s Je­sus take the wheel be­cause it’s out of your hands,” he said, not­ing that a 2008 study showed the prov­ince’s high­ways are $4.38 bil­lion be­hind in main­te­nance.

“I don’t want to see any more twin­ning — fix the high­ways that we’ve got, fix the bridges we’ve got,” he said.

“Let’s worry about the stuff we’ve got be­fore we start build­ing a lot more stuff.”

Bruce Fitzner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of in­fra­struc­ture pro­grams Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, said there was a broad range of opin­ions ex­pressed at the meet­ing, which was held at the Mem­ber­tou Trade and Con­ven­tion Cen­tre.

“It seemed to me there was sort of a mix of opin­ions here, which is good — we want to hear peo­ple speak­ing up,” he said. “There was some peo­ple say­ing that they pay enough taxes al­ready and they’re not will­ing to pay any more. There’s some peo­ple who feel maybe that maybe the high­ways don’t need to be twinned or up­graded, but im­proved in other ways. And then there was other peo­ple who talked to the fu­ture and how hav­ing a good strong road sys­tem into Cape Bre­ton is a key piece of in­fra­struc­ture to gen­er­ate a bet­ter econ­omy in the fu­ture.”

The con­sul­ta­tion ses­sions con­tinue tonight at the Tara Lynne Com­mu­nity Cen­tre in

River Bour­geois and Thurs­day at the Port Hawkes­bury Civic Cen­tre from 6:30-8:30 p.m.


Bruce Fitzner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of in­fra­struc­ture pro­grams Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, speaks dur­ing a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion ses­sion on us­ing tolls to pay for high­way twin­ning projects at the Mem­ber­tou Trade and Con­ven­tion Cen­tre on Tues­day night.



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