The Town of Port Hawkesbury recently broke from a stance taken by past councils in opposing plans for a by-pass in favour of an overhaul of the town’s main street.
On February 22, the town issued a press release claiming the highway proposed from Port Hastings to Port Hawkesbury is an “unsustainable and unnecessary project,” noting it will save only five minutes, cost $63 million and by-pass a major portion of the town.
Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton said the by-pass “will negatively impact commerce,” and reduced traffic would “translate into reduced sales for our local businesses,” along with saddling drivers with the cost of a toll.
The mayor said the town’s Destination Reeves Street plan is about improving navigation, safety and speed along the town’s main thoroughfare. She said the added time driving through Port Hawkesbury will slow down traffic to safer speed levels without impacting industrial traffic to Point Tupper.
Chisholm-Beaton added the revamped Reeves Street will cost less and makes more sense for the community.
During a public consultation session the next night, town officials reiterated their position, noting the by-pass won’t actually make local roads safer.
While it is true that the need to by-pass the town is not as pressing as the need to twin Highway 104 to Cape Breton, it’s debatable whether upgrading Reeves Street alone is the answer, nor is it a given that the by-pass option should be permanently shelved.
The by-pass was originally proposed as a way to reduce traffic in the town, particularly large vehicles, commercial and industrial traffic, 18-wheelers, and those driving between other parts of Cape Breton and the mainland.
The town council and mayor of the day fully supported this idea, with the intent that it would allow for better traffic flow within the town, provide better access to businesses and services, and make streets safer for drivers and pedestrians.
Now that economic activity has remained constant, there is not a pressing a need for a by-pass but if construction and activity were to ramp up – like construction of the LNG facility earmarked for Bear Head – a remodeled main street will not be sufficient.
And even now, Reeves Street is inundated with traffic of all types during specific times of the day, and it is uncertain whether a new look will fully fix these problems.
Because of these ongoing traffic issues, both projects can and should proceed.
Without a doubt, Port Hawkesbury needs a dramatically new look for Reeves Street that goes beyond aesthetics, to better functionality and increased safety. Residents and officials, and even visitors, are unanimous in their support of Destination Reeves Street.
But supporting this project should not mean opposing the by-pass and vice versa.
The two projects can both succeed and even complement each other. The mere 6.75-kilometre by-pass is short enough and comes in at a modest $87 million which can be covered by the provincial and federal governments, without requiring a toll.
With the by-pass, the currently heavy traffic load on Reeves Street will be alleviated, to enhance pedestrian enjoyment of the new Reeves Street. And since Destination Reeves Street is a separate project, its funding will not be jeopardized by the by-pass.
This is not an either-or option. Both projects can proceed because they are very necessary.