Province mulls private option for Highway 104 twinning

ANTIGONISH: The province is looking at a new way to fund a local highway twinning project.

Last week, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal 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 it 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.

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Generally speaking, the province designs and finances highway construction, with the private sector looking after the construction. The release goes on to state the province it is not considering the implementation of any tolls to finance the project while exploring the new model.

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

DITR plans to issue a request for qualifications this summer.

“This is exciting for us in that we are looking at our overall commitment that we made as government to twin the 80-odd kilometres in the seven years and this piece is one of the largest piece of the twinning commitment at 28 kilometres,” said Hines. “It’s an exciting project. It’s estimated to be in the vicinity of $285 million and what we are doing is bringing that forward and bringing it in step with the three other twinning projects we had.”

Hines said if the DTIR plans to hit their target, he said they need to find a way to speed up the process. Hines said 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.

“There are all kinds of reasons to do this but the most salient one… is that this is about saving lives,” said Hines. “Twinned highways save lives. We know that. The quicker we can get this particular section of twinning done, between Antigonish and New Glasgow, the more Nova Scotians we’ll have safe and sound in their homes.”

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, noting the total cost for twinning in the province is around $285 million.