HALIFAX: Nova Scotia’s first, dedicated program to address repairs and reconstruction on gravel roads will see an annual $10 million in new funding.

The Gravel Road Capital Program was introduced last Friday. The funding, broken down based on the number of kilometres of gravel road in each district, includes $3.4 million for the eastern district which includes Guysborough, Antigonish, Richmond, and Inverness counties.

“We have 8,400 kilometres of gravel roads in our province and we need to have the ability to repair more of those roads than we have in the past – which simply has not been enough,” said Geoff MacLellan, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

“Each spring we grade and fill gravel roads and rebuild those that are deemed urgent, however, there’s still a gap between what we would like to do and what we are able to do with the funding available.”

The new program is designed to rebuild roads to improve the structure and drainage for a longer-lasting driving surface and make regular road maintenance easier.

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal said gravel roads will be evaluated and repairs will be prioritized based on traffic volumes and road conditions such as potholes, poor drainage, loss of gravel, soft areas and roadside vegetation.

Inverness Progressive Conservative MLA Allan MacMaster said the announcement shows the McNeil government is finally admitting its neglect of rural roads over the past four years was a mistake.

“The new gravel road budget is $10 million, but over the past four years, the McNeil government spent about $6 million less each year through the Rural Impact Mitigation (RIM) rural road maintenance budget,” says MacMaster. “They took away over $20 million in ditching, brush cutting, and graveling work, and now on the eve of an election, they are promising half of it back to us.”

Maintenance budgets for rural roads have been decreased since 2008-09, said MacMaster, who noted that when adjusted for inflation, the budget should be over $22 million to equal what was spent at that time, but the McNeil government has been spending only about $16 million each year.

“Because of the RIM cut, we have only received three years-worth of road maintenance over the four years of the McNeil government,” says MacMaster. “Maintenance was ignored and it means more costly work is now needed to restore these roads.”

In October 2014, MacMaster introduced a resolution asking all MLAs to restore the road maintenance budget but the Inverness MLA said members of the McNeil caucus voted against it.

“The election will be here soon,” says MacMaster. “It is time to let voters decide whether the McNeil government cared enough to look after our rural roads when communities needed it, not just at election time.”