Toll position just one topic of meeting
Torrent of highway complaints unleashed about state of Cape Breton roads
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.