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For whom the bill tolls

Picking up the tab for Nova Scotia’s highways


October 12, 2016
By Andrew Snook

October 12, 2016 – Nova Scotians are struggling with who they believe should pick up the tab when it comes to the proposed twinning of several provincial highways.

The Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (NSTIR) Highway Engineering Services recently commissioned the Highway Twinning Feasibility Study, which reviewed the potential cost to design, construct, operate, maintain and finance eight sections of 100-series highways within the province, while determining viable options to fund these projects through the use of a combination of tolls, public-private partnership (P3) Canada funding models and government subsidies.

The eight highway sections identified as part of the study were:

  • Corridor 1: Highway 101 – Three Mile Plains to Falmouth (10.8 km); 
  • Corridor 2: Highway 101 – Hortonville to Coldbrook (23.7 km);
  • Corridor 3: Highway 103 – Exit 5 at Tantallon to Exit 12 Bridgewater (68.1 km);
  • Corridor 4: Highway 104 – Sutherlands River to Antigonish (37.8 km);
  • Corridor 5: Highway 104 – Taylor’s Road to Auld’s Cove (39.5 km);
  • Corridor 6: Highway 104 – Port Hastings to Port Hawkesbury (7.0 km);
  • Corridor 7: Highway 104 – St. Peter’s to Sydney (94.9 km); and
  • Corridor 8: Highway 107 – Porter’s Lake to Duke Street, Bedford (33.3 km).

One of the recommendations that stemmed from the report was the implementation of tolls on the highways to improve the province’s ability to speed up construction on these projects. Without tolls, it is unlikely that any of these sections of highway will be twinned anytime in the near future. There just isn’t enough cash in the coffers – a familiar story for residents across the province when it comes to finding funding for infrastructure projects (I remember it well, I lived in the Annapolis Valley for a few years).

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Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan recently stated that the response to this option has been almost evenly split amongst Nova Scotians across most regions with the exception of communities in the Antigonish area.

MacLellan recently told CBC News that the tolling option to speed up production has received its strongest support in the Antigonish area, where the surrounding communities have experienced a high number of fatalities on its section of Highway 104.

One of the reasons Nova Scotians are likely hesitant to adopt tolls is the possibility of increased transportation costs for goods being shipped in and out of the province. But would this necessarily be the case? With twinned highways comes more efficient transportation of goods, so the cost of doing business won’t necessarily increase for companies shipping goods – if they can get in and out faster, that’s good for business.

Another consideration for Nova Scotians is the fact that implementing tolls could mean that residents do not have to absorb as much of the construction costs, thanks to the province being a popular home for tourists during the warmer months.

There’s only one way to truly see the beautiful province that is Nova Scotia, and that’s hitting the highways. Tourists aren’t going to shy away from a trip across Atlantic Canada due to a couple of dollars worth of tolls here and there, and those dollars could quickly add up to significant funding for the highway twinning projects, as well as future dollars to put towards the maintenance of the highways.

Time will tell if Nova Scotians are willing to trade more tolls for safer, more efficient highways.


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