Stopping a much needed project that offers so much promise for Port Hawkesbury, all because of a disagreement over the number of lanes, is unnecessary.

During January’s regular meeting, town council decided to turn to its funding partners, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR), to see if the motion introduced by new town councillor Blaine MacQuarrie to remove the re-design portion of the project was a plausible option.

Also supported by town councillor Hughie MacDougall, deputy mayor Mark MacIver seconded MacQuarrie’s motion and council voted to obtain more information from provincial and federal counterparts before making a final decision. At the time, the town’s finance director, Erin MacEachen, outlined the financial impact of the road redesign as being 32 per cent of the total Destination Reeves Street project, with a price tag of $1.3 million.

The highly-controversial part of the plan is the proposed one-kilometre lane reconfiguration at the intersection of Pitt Street and Trunk 4A, from the current four lanes to three.

Port Hawkesbury CAO Terry Doyle recently told The Reporter that the results of creating the turning lane in the east/west bound lanes is the addition of a buffer between the lanes and sidewalks and the reduced speed that naturally happens, but he said that “core component” can no longer happen if the road re-design is taken out.

Doyle said Reeves Street is designed for 100 km/h but if they expect people to travel the posted 50 km/h – from a traffic engineer’s perspective – the road has to be redesigned accordingly. He said the intent behind the project is to convert a highway to an urban street, which will be safer for pedestrians and bikers, as well as motorists.

If council moves forward on the road reconfiguration, Doyle said the town will be in violation of the terms of the ACOA contract, work would have to stop immediately and the federal funding provided by ACOA to the Town of Port Hawkesbury in the amount of $1,606,420 through its Innovative Communities Fund will be in jeopardy. He said town would also be facing “liabilities.”

Chisholm-Beaton highlighted the importance of this project to NSCC students, citizens in Embree’s Island, all the users of Reeves Street including drivers and pedestrians, the local businesses via the façade program, the town’s image through the main street revitalization, and the ability to attract and retain business and industry.

Also of note is that the three-lane configuration will be a pilot project, and if the consensus is that the new configuration does not work, then it can be returned to a four-lane road.

For three town councillors to put this project in limbo – at such a late date, after years of consultations and meetings, all for the sake of one lane that might be returned anyway – is certainly a regressive move for a town trying to secure a brighter future.

First responders, most notably the Port Hawkesbury Volunteer Fire Department, have stated they are concerned that fewer lanes will compromise the ability of their members to respond to calls. While that is a concern that needs to be addressed, those questions are covered by sections of the Motor Vehicle Act that mandate all motorists pull over for emergency vehicles with flashing lights.

Even if MacQuarrie is correct in his assertion that the vast majority of residents in the town are against removing the lane, this project must still proceed because it is the right thing to do. Even if it is unpopular initially, over time it will benefit the town, and people will get used to it.

This is a project designed for the greater good, not just motorists. There are many other users of this road such as pedestrians, especially students walking to the NSCC Strait Area Campus or SAERC, there are bikers who will use Reeve Street, and there are those in wheelchairs, and others with different abilities who deserve the dignity of equal access.

Even others who will be impacted, like truck drivers, have had their misgivings dispelled by large scale employers like Port Hawkesbury Paper, who strongly support the project and don’t believe it will impact their operations.

It is unfortunate that a project intended to modernize and improve Port Hawkesbury has created so much animosity that Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon questioned transportation minister Lloyd Hines about the three-lane re-design. This is not to mention the endless arguments on social media and other platforms between opposing camps.

Amid the rancorous debate, it’s easy to lose sight of the original intention of the project to bring Reeves Street up to par with the Main Streets of other towns.

It is not worth losing a multi-million dollar revitalization project for the sake of an avoidable debate.