A study commissioned by the provincial government threw cold water on plans to twin highways in some parts of the Strait area, but also opened the possibility for upgrades to other sections of Highway 104.
A report from CBCL Limited ranked the feasibility of highway twinning based on safety, the number of collisions, cost versus projected revenue, and average traffic.
The study listed the cost of twinning at just over $87 million for a 6.75 kilometre (km) section from Port Hastings to Port Hawkesbury and a whopping $491 million for an 80 km part of the highway from St. Peter’s to Sydney.
The study listed average daily traffic (ADT) at around 8,000 and suggested a toll range of $0.42 to $0.84 for the section from Port Hastings to Port Hawkesbury, while the ADT for the St. Peter’s portion is 2,000 and a toll range from $5.03 to $21.81 was recommended.
In the case of the Port Hawkesbury by-pass, the fact that it is a mere 6.75 km stretch makes twinning counter-productive, considering the possibility of tolls outside Antigonish and going to Cape Breton. The modest price tag also makes it possible for the provincial government to fund this by-pass with help from the federal government.
As for the highway to Sydney, the fact that it would come with a price tag at almost half a billion dollars, and that toll rates would be expensive, or at the very least unpredictable, make this twinning project a non-starter.
For the mainland parts of Highway 104 the news was much better.
A 37.8 km section of from Sutherland’s River to Antigonish would cost over $285 million and a 38.4 km section from Taylor’s Road to Auld’s Cove was priced at $279.2 million.
From Sutherland’s River to Antigonish, the ADT was around 8,000 with a toll range from $2.27 to $3.78, and from Taylor’s Road to Auld’s Cove, the ADT was 8,000 with a toll range from $2.37 to $3.95.
This should start the process of finally twinning Highway 104 from New Glasgow to the Canso Causeway.
On the financial side, traffic volumes justify twinning, the overall costs are reasonable and toll rates can be minimal.
But it is because of safety that Highway 104 must be twinned. As traffic and usage have increased, there have been fatalities, injuries, collisions, and far more close calls than can be recorded, particularly in areas like Marshy Hope and Havre Boucher.
This is a dangerous stretch of provincial highway that must be twinned as soon as possible, and if tolls are the only way to accomplish this, then that is what must happen.
The costs from unsafe highways far outweigh the costs of tolls.