ANTIGONISH: The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR) welcomed residents to the first of two open houses for the twinning project of Highway 104.
Held on November 6 at StFX, the open house provided information to the general public and a status update for the highly-controversial 38-kilometre stretch of Highway 104 that dips and winds between Sutherland’s River and Antigonish, which received $90 million in funding from the federal government in July.
The $285 million project will start at the end of the four-lanes in Sutherland’s River and continue right through to the four-lanes just outside of Antigonish. The new highway will detour south, by-passing Marshy Hope completely, with a brand-new four-lane 10-kilometre stretch of highway that will tie in just east of the Pictou/Antigonish County line.
Jamie Chisholm, DTIR’s director of major projects and construction, said everybody is aware of the project, but the open house is a means to let the public know what’s happening and what stage the project is at.
“It’s also a two-way communication. It lets us take in some information that people [may] have to offer.”
The department has upwards of 40 people, plus six different consultants, all working to prepare tender packages to go out to bidders and Chisholm said with this going to be a P3 project, a private-public partnership, and most of the work DTIR has to do is on the front end.
On November 5, Nova Scotia highway workers, represented by CUPE 1867, launched a radio ad which will run province-wide until November 18, asking the provincial government not to use the private-public partnership to construct the new stretch of Highway 104.
“The decision to go with the P3 model, it is different than the normal construction that we do,” Chisholm said. “Normally, we prepare all the designs, put everything together and put it out to bid, and then we kind of manage the project with our staff, some of which are CUPE.”
With the Highway 104 twinning, however, DTIR is taking a hands-off approach, letting the proponents look after everything in regards with the project from the design to the construction.
President of CUPE Local 1867, Steve Joy, said in a press release that while he is pleased with the highway twinning project that is long overdue, he still has concerns about public safety when it comes to contracting-out snow and ice removal.
“Will this highway be maintained to the same high standards as our public roads if the contractor decides to cut corners or wages to turn a profit?” he asked. “Also, can a private, for-profit company clear and maintain highways for less than our own Department of Transportation?”
Nan McFadgen, president of CUPE Nova Scotia, said she believes Nova Scotia could build and twin even more kilometers of highway if the government would use public procurement, rather than the P3.
“The reason why we [chose to] do this is because P3 is a way to get significant amount of work done in a short time frame,” Chisholm explained. “There has been a great deal of public support to get this highway twinned, and to get it twinned as quickly as possible.”
He advised the amount of work that could be accomplished within three years inside a P3 model, would take DTIR five-to-seven times longer to accomplish.
“That’s part of the reasoning we chose this route, we’re anticipating that the P3 will actually save us money,” Chisholm said.
Joy however, doesn’t see the situation playing out the same way.
“There is no need to give taxpayers’ money away to private corporations. With a P3 we’ll pay more and get less.”
The department has recently closed their request for qualification (RFQ) and is in the process of evaluating those submissions. The next step is to short-list three bidders to move onto the request for proposal stage.
Construction is anticipated to begin in early 2020, with the much-promised upgraded section of Highway 104 twinned by 2024.