As if waiting in traffic for two hours in sweltering late summer heat isn’t enough, motorists were further insulted when officials responsible for the delay pointed fingers rather than taking responsibility.
After a number of lengthy delays at the Canso Causeway last summer, on August 23, traffic entering and leaving Cape Breton was initially delayed, then eventually backed up as far as the Town of Port Hawkesbury as a result of work being done by a Nova Scotia Power (NSP) contractor, as well as the Canso Canal opening for two vessels.
NSP explained that insulators on one of the transmission lines along the Canso Causeway were being replaced using a mobile crane and the contractor doing the work maintained one lane of traffic.
While they pointed to their own contractor not securing the proper permits, NSP was alone in taking some responsibility for the traffic jam, promising that contractors and their own personnel will seek the proper permits for this location and provide advance notice to the travelling public.
As traffic was slowed to one lane, the swing bridge at the Canso Canal was opened to allow vessels to go through, which stopped travel in both directions.
The Communications branch of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Maritimes Region helpfully explained that the Canadian Coast Guard operates the Canso Canal lock system for mariners, but was quick to point out that the Province of Nova Scotia maintains and operates the Canso Causeway for roadway traffic crossing the Canso Canal, as well as the swing bridge.
The DFO did confirm that two vessels went through the Canso Canal on August 23. The first vessel was at 10:10 a.m., and the canal was open for 15 minutes. The second vessel, a small pleasure craft, transited at 2:45 p.m., and the canal was open for 10 minutes.
Like the DFO, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR) refused to explain why the Canso Canal was opened twice when there was already a lengthy traffic delay.
However, the DTIR immediately assigned blame to NSP for not securing the proper permits and establishing a traffic control plan.
In the absence of an explanation as to why the swing bridge was opened, not once but twice, during a traffic delay, it is safe to assume that as the response to the problem indicates, provincial and federal officials are not communicating and not on the same page when it comes to the Canso Causeway and Canso Canal.
The main problem lies with the division of duties where the Coast Guard operates the lock system, but the transportation department operates the swing bridge and the Canso Causeway.
This lays the foundation for the mess on August 23, when it has now become clear that the swing bridge should not have opened the first time until traffic dissipated, and definitely should not have been opened a second time, until traffic started flowing.
Yes, the bridge exists to allow vessels to pass between the Strait of Canso and the Northumberland Strait, but it does not have to open immediately for all boats, regardless of the traffic situation.
When emergency vehicles have to cross the Canso Causeway the bridge does not remain open for boats, nor should it open during traffic delays when the boats requesting passage are merely recreational and have no pressing business on the other side.
If not, the Canso Causeway is not a reliable transportation link during boating season and the public cannot cross it in a timely fashion.
Not only does this hurt the economy of Cape Breton, this badly undermines public health and safety.
Perhaps it’s time this patchwork of agencies responsible for the Canso Causeway, Canso Canal and the swing bridge get together and get on the same page.
Those who use this infrastructure deserve better.