SUTHERLAND’S RIVER: The provincial and federal governments agree with the banner in front of the Barneys River Volunteer Fire Department that reads “Twinned Highways Save Lives.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a major federal government investment of $90 million to twin the highly-controversial 38-kilometre section of Highway 104 that dips and winds between Sutherland’s River and Antigonish.
Trudeau made the announcement with Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, Central Nova MP Sean Fraser, and Barneys River Fire Chief Joe MacDonald at the East Pictou Middle School on July 17.
“Twinning and upgrading Highway 104 is about improving road safety, creating good, middle class jobs, and making it easier for people – and products – to move across the province and the country,” Trudeau said. “Our government will continue to listen to communities, and make historic investments in the infrastructure they need, today and for the future.”
The project, which is led by a $195 million contribution from the Government of Nova Scotia, will include twinning a 28-kilometre section of existing highway and a new 10-kilometre, four-lane alignment between Barneys River and James River, south of Highway 104.
“Nova Scotians want us to improve the safety of our roads and we are committed to doing just that,” Premier McNeil said. “Highway 104 is an essential piece of infrastructure that connects communities in our province, and Nova Scotia to the rest of the country. I’m pleased our federal partners are working with us on this project that will make the highway safer.”
“As people in the community have demonstrated over the years this major upgrade is essential for the region, Trudeau said. “Highway 104 carries 15,000 vehicles a day, including 2,500 trucks and represents 50 per cent of all container and truck traffic destined for Newfoundland and Labrador.”
On top of relieving the bottleneck, this project will also deal with the real issue of the numerous fatal collisions in previous years, Trudeau said.
“It’s also expected to reduce fatalities on this stretch of the highway by 80 per cent.”
Barney’s River Fire Chief Joe MacDonald, a tireless advocate for twinning the highway, has witnessed firsthand far too many fatalities and injuries. MacDonald revealed that since 2009, there have been 414 accidents and 16 people have died on that stretch of road.
“Four years ago this past February 4, there was another fatal accident, an 18-year-old man, [and I said] ‘I had had enough!’”
He recounted how he messaged the premier about the effects those horrific crashes had on firefighters and their families, and about those who have died and been disabled on that stretch of highway.
MacDonald’s voice choked with emotion, as he thanked those responsible for the plan.
“I want to thank you from the bottom on my heart,” he said. “And on behalf of the families affected by this highway, thank you.”
Central Nova MP Sean Fraser said it is a positive day for the community as this is something they’ve been working towards for years.
“When you grow up along that stretch of highway as I did, there’s a sense of normalcy, when you hear on the radio, you hear in the newspapers that there’s been another death,” he said. “You sit and hope when you hear there’s an accident, that it’s not someone you care about that’s been involved.”
Construction is anticipated to begin in early 2020, with the much-promised upgraded section of Highway 104 twinned by 2024.