Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced a federal government investment of $90 million to twin a 38-kilometre section of Highway 104 between Sutherland’s River and Antigonish.
The Prime Minister said the work on Highway 104 is about improving safety, creating jobs and making it easier for people and products to move. He noted that Highway 104 carries 15,000 vehicles a day, including 2,500 trucks and represents 50 per cent of all container and truck traffic destined for Newfoundland and Labrador.
On top of relieving the bottleneck, this project will also deal with the numerous fatal and serious collisions on the highway, with Trudeau claiming the twinning is expected to reduce fatalities by 80 per cent.
Trudeau made the announcement with Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, Central Nova MP Sean Fraser, and Barneys River Fire Chief Joe MacDonald at the East Pictou Middle School on July 17.
MacDonald, a tireless advocate for twinning the highway, witnessed firsthand many fatalities and injuries. MacDonald revealed that since 2009, there have been 414 accidents and 16 people have died on that stretch of road, including several Strait area residents.
Following an accident on February 4, 2014 which claimed the life of an 18-year-old man, MacDonald decided he had enough. He started by messaging the premier about the effects those horrific crashes had on firefighters and their families, and about those who have died and been disabled on that stretch of highway. He has continued to press for twinning ever since.
During the announcement on July 17, MacDonald’s voice choked with emotion, as he thanked those responsible for the plan.
Central Nova MP Sean Fraser said it was a positive day for the community as this is something they’ve been working towards for years.
The project, which is led by a $195 million contribution from the Government of Nova Scotia, will include twinning a 28-kilometre section of the existing highway and a new 10-kilometre, four-lane alignment between Barneys River and James River, south of Highway 104.
Premier McNeil said, “Highway 104 is an essential piece of infrastructure that connects communities in our province, and Nova Scotia to the rest of the country.”
Construction is anticipated to begin in early 2020, with the much-promised upgraded section of Highway 104 twinned by 2024.
Hopefully, the financial commitments will be fully honoured, the timeline will not be affected by unknown factors and work will start in the next two years and finish in four.
This is simply one of the most important transportation priorities for this region and the entire province, given this is the only highway to and from Cape Breton and eastern Nova Scotia and considering it is one of the most treacherous sections of highway.
The numbers don’t lie. The fatalities, the serious mental and physical injuries, horrific collisions, lengthy traffic disruptions, and the generally unsafe condition of this section of highway have piled up over time and now the federal and provincial governments have decided, like the community, that enough is enough.
This is an expensive project with an aggressive timeline but no timeline or price tag can be placed on public safety.