HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government's decision Wednesday to commit $390 million over seven years to improve highways was welcomed with relief by the chief of a small rural fire department in the province's northeast.
Among the three sections of 100-series highway to be twinned beginning in 2018 is a 38-kilometre stretch of Highway 104 near Barneys River, which has seen at least 15 fatal collisions and 372 accidents since 2009.
Joe MacDonald, chief of the Barneys River Volunteer Fire Department, said the announcement by Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan would not only save lives, it would also help relieve the burden placed on his small cadre of volunteers.
"We've experienced our fair share of those numbers, probably more than the other departments, and it runs our volunteer firemen to the brink," said MacDonald. "It will help save us and retain members."
The funding, announced in advance of an expected election campaign, will also see the building of the four-lane Burnside connector between Burnside and Bedford in suburban Halifax.
The announcement came after nearly two years of study on the possible use of tolls as a means of paying for the work.
But MacLellan said feedback from 14 public meetings made it clear tolls weren't wanted.
"Now it's definitive. Nova Scotians are not interested in toll highways, but they want us to build twinned highways as quick as we can to the capacity that we can."
The twinning projects include:
— Highway 101, Three Mile Plains to Falmouth, including the Windsor Causeway (9.5 kilometres) at an estimated cost of $90 million
— Highway 103, Tantallon to Hubbards (22 kilometres) at an estimated cost of $140 million
— Highway 104, Sutherlands River to Antigonish, including Barneys River (38 kilometres) at an estimated cost of $285 million
The funding includes $30 million for safety improvements for highways not being twinned. That work involves improving grades at intersections, adding passing and climbing lanes and adding turning lanes.
MacLellan said the government would also remove tolls from the Cobequid Pass between Amherst and Truro by 2019 — but only for Nova Scotia motorists. The government is still studying whether to continue tolls for commercial trucks and non-residents.
"Any policy on the tolls will impact a lot of people," MacLellan said. "But we thought it would be the right thing to do to let people know that they will be receiving that break once the bond (on the pass) is paid."
Department officials said about half the revenue from the Cobequid Pass tolls, about $19 million, is collected from large commercial trucks.
MacLellan said the province has applied for matching funds for the highway projects under the federal infrastructure program.
Grant Feltmate, executive director of the Nova Scotia Road Builders Association, said the new plan was good news for the province.
"A lot of that work is going to be done in rural Nova Scotia," said Feltmate. "For that amount of money, probably over the total duration of that work, I would guess something in the order of 3,000 good paying jobs."