Highway 104 twinning making progress

The effort to twin Highway 104 continues to make progress.

Last week, Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines said the province is looking into more private sector input on the Highway 104 twinning project between Sutherlands River and Antigonish.

A release from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR) stated the department is investigating the use of a model, called “Design Build Finance Operate Maintain,” in which the responsibilities for designing, building, financing, operating, and maintaining the highway is given to a single firm through a bidding process, allowing one firm to control the schedule of the project. The release goes on to state the province would then pay the firm annual service payments for the operation and maintenance of the highway for the duration of an agreement but the province is not considering the implementation of any tolls to finance the project.

The project will twin 38 kilometres between Pictou County and Antigonish, along with the construction of new interchanges and bridges.

DTIR plans to issue a request for qualifications this summer for the estimated $285 million project. Previously, Hines said the section will be twinned by 2022. Hines also said the province set aside $5 million in funding for planning, drilling, testing, and surveying for highway twinning across Nova Scotia in its latest budget.

Hines said if the department plans to hit their target, they need to find a way to speed up the process – and the Design Build Finance Operate Maintain paradigm, if the evidence the province has is correct – will save time and could save the province 14.5 per cent of the total budget. Hines said that can be achieved through bulk purchasing and consolidated management.

Not just saving money and time, Hines pointed to public safety as the main reason for twinning.

Last week, Hines also confirmed that the Paq’tnkek Interchange project is on time and on budget.

Paq’tnkek First Nation is located on two parcels of land and around 200 hectares of land on the south of the community were expropriated by the government in the 1960s for the construction of the Trans Canada Highway.

The interchange project will help reconnect the First Nation community and will right a historical wrong, according to Hines.

Hines said the interchange will provide economic opportunity. As proof he pointed to the development taking place in and around Antigonish as a result of the by-pass.

On July 13, 2017, the Paq’tnkek Mi’kmaw Nation voted to surrender 32 acres of land and transfer another 34 acres of band-owned land for the $15.3 million interchange. As part of the agreement, the band will receive $2.3 million in compensation.

With the timeline possibly accelerated for twinning to Antigonish and the Afton Interchange project on time, it appears the days of twinned highways extending to the Canso Causeway can become a reality in the next decade.

When these plans were unveiled, it appeared that not only would it take time, but given the province’s fiscal state, they might never take shape.

The province deserves credit for investigating all avenues to get this twinning done.

Hopefully, these plans will not change and motorists travelling to and from Cape Breton will finally get the safe and efficient roads they want and deserve.