The only issues that receive as much public attention as health care surround local roads and highways.
On November 6 at StFX, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR) welcomed residents to the first of two open houses for the twinning project of Highway 104.
The open house provided information to the general public and a status update for the 38-kilometre stretch of Highway 104 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.
Construction is anticipated to begin in early 2020, with the upgraded section of Highway 104 twinned by 2024.
Judging by the attendance at the open houses and the amount of attention the twinning of Highway 104 has received, it’s clear this is a high priority for many people in and around the Strait area.
Perhaps the most significant item of news from the open house is that the new highway will thankfully by-pass Marshy Hope, arguably the most dangerous section of the 104, on which there have many fatalities and injuries over the years.
Meanwhile in Port Hawkesbury, town councillors defeated a motion to hold a plebiscite on a controversial component of the Destination Reeves Street Project.
During the regular monthly meeting of Port Hawkesbury Town Council on November 6, town councillor Hughie MacDougall presented a motion to ask residents if they support reducing Reeves Street from four lanes to three.
MacDougall and Mark McIver, the town’s new deputy mayor, voted in favour of the plebiscite, while the town’s mayor, Brenda Chisholm-Beaton and Trevor Boudreau voted against for a 2-2 result. According to the Municipal Government Act, a tied vote on a motion classifies as a defeated motion.
Boudreau, who voiced his opposition to the vote, advised council that a plebiscite is non-binding, which means this council or the next could do whatever they want, regardless of the result.
Considering the amount of “misinformation” circulating, Boudreau said the town would be setting up a vote governed by emotions and passions. Boudreau said he doesn’t see a plebiscite solving any of the town’s problems, but only creating more, as it will divide the community.
He went to state that the community is making a “mockery” of a $5 million project that is supposed to be positive.
Noting that the reduction from four to three lanes will be done as a pilot project, so residents can try the road for themselves before making an informed decision, Chisholm-Beaton said a plebiscite is premature. If there are still concerns, she said the town can consider other ways to engage citizens.
While it is healthy that the changes to Reeves Street have generated so much debate and public interest, it is discouraging that some of the opposition to the lane reduction is based on bad information.
Aside from the danger of a vote governed by misinformation, the main reason the plebiscite should not be held is because this is the job of town councillors, not residents. Voters of the town went to the polls two years ago to elect people to make these decisions.
At the same meeting, Port Hawkesbury officials discussed their concerns and the concerns of the residents of Granville Street. After deliberations, the town decided it will conduct a traffic study on Granville Street, and look at removing the boulders where Granville Street meets Prince Street.
Terry Doyle, the town’s CAO, said officials have noticed a number of issues, specifically concerns with the intersection of Granville Street and Old Sydney Road and the line of sight coming up Pitt Street.
After the meeting, the mayor said the town wants to look at ways to reduce the amount of speeding on Granville Street, pointing to the amount of close calls along the street.
In addition, councillors also discussed options for ‘Boulder Park,’ the north end of Granville Street, where in the summer boulders were placed at the look-off area to deter campers who had been using the green space as a campsite.
The location had been listed as free camp site on-line without permission from town officials and the boulders were used as a temporary fix.
The mayor said feedback on the boulders has not been positive, with issued raised over aesthetics, safety and accessibility.
These are definitely trouble spots within the town that are unsafe and where there is a high potential for injury or death, particularly the intersection of Granville Street and Old Sydney Road, where near misses are a daily occurrence.
And while the town hashes over safety and aesthetic concerns relating to ‘Boulder Park’ at the north end of Granville Street, the fact that this green space is inaccessible to those with mobility issues should be the most troubling consequence of its decision.
Surely there is a way to make sure this area does not become an unofficial campground without preventing all people from enjoying the scenery and the open space.
Regardless of the solutions provided to these transportation issues, they will undoubtedly generate a lot of discussion.
The fact remains that changes are necessary in all those cases, the question will be how that is carried out.