Construction on the $717.9 million twinning project of Highway 104, the section of highway connecting mainland Nova Scotia to Cape Breton Island, broke ground on July 17.

ANTIGONISH: The MP for Central Nova says the twinning of Highway 104 is an exciting, game-changing project for the region on one of its most dangerous stretches of highway.

“This project is something that I’ve been spending a lot of effort on in the last few years,” Sean Fraser told The Reporter. “Full credit is due to the folks in the community who’ve been advocating to see this highway twinned, in particular Joe MacDonald.”

MacDonald, who is the chief of the Barneys River Volunteer Fire Department, said this is a very important step towards safer highways throughout Nova Scotia.

“After many lives lost and changed forever, we are moving towards safer roads between Sutherlands River and Antigonish,” he said. “I thank everyone for your support and seeing one of my dreams come true.”

On July 17, crews and machinery officially broke ground on the construction for the twinning of Highway 104 between Exit 27 at Sutherlands River and to just west of Exit 31 in Antigonish.

“I’ve been driving that highway my entire life, more or less on a weekly basis, if not more often,” Fraser said. “I know what it’s like to drive through Marshy Hope, and I know what it’s like to get caught in a storm, and to see cars go off the road.”

There have been 391 collisions, including 19 fatalities in 14 fatal collisions on Highway 104 from Sutherlands River to Antigonish.

The $717.9 million project will make the 32-kilometer stretch of highway safer for motorists and improve the efficiency of one of the province’s most important transportation corridors.

“This project will save lives and provide travellers and business with a high-quality highway for many years to come,” Lloyd Hines, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal said in a statement. “A safe and efficient highway system is essential to the economic and social well-being of Nova Scotia. Our partnership with Dexter Nova Alliance will deliver on that goal.”

Dexter Nova Alliance, led by local contractors Dexter Construction and Antigonish-based Nova Construction, was awarded the contract to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the section of Highway 104 in May.

“This is a significant project that will have a positive impact on our province for decades to come,” Ken MacLean, vice-president of Dexter Nova Alliance said. “It will be built by Nova Scotia-based companies for Nova Scotians and we are proud of that.”

The project includes 28 kilometres of new two-lane twinned highway and 10 kilometres of new four-lane twinned highway. There are two new interchanges and about 24 new bridges. Construction is scheduled to be completed before the end of 2023.

There have been 391 collisions, including 19 fatalities in 14 fatal collisions on the un-twinned portion of Highway 104 from Sutherlands River to Antigonish.

“Frankly, I’ve met too many families now who’ve lost loved ones as a result of the unsafe transportation network that connects Pictou County to Antigonish,” Fraser said. “In addition to any economic benefits, the primary thoughts that I have when it comes up are – how many lives are going to be saved going forward, how many families are not going to have to feel that pain, and how many fewer accidents are we going to send our first responders to.”

In July of 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the area and announced a federal contribution of $90 million to the project under the National Trade Corridors Fund.

“There was no question in my mind this project was worth advancing,” Fraser said. “I couldn’t be prouder to help with the effort to secure a $90 million federal investment to have a safer highway and putting people to work in our own backyard.”