SHERBROOKE: Motorists travelling along Trunk 7 in Sherbrooke will need to keep an eye out for off-highway vehicles as they will now be sharing the roadway together.

As of Monday, a new three-year pilot project was launched to enhance the trail connections for off-highway vehicles (OHVs) giving them legal access to provincial roads. The pilot enables them to use the shoulders of roadways, and the roadway itself where necessary, in order to safely travel in select areas from one trail to another or to access services.

“This is something the highway vehicle industry has been speaking to government about for a long time, probably a decade,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines. “This three-year pilot will enhance trail connections and associated off season tourism opportunities while providing us with an opportunity for further study.”

Hines highlighted the diligent work the ATV Association of Nova Scotia has been conducting through its members clubs to extend the trail system in the province.

“One of the flaws in the trails is at certain places they cannot get from A to B unless they have permission to be in the road right-of-way,” he said. “We’ve worked with the off-highway vehicle industry over the last four years and we were able to come to a process, where we analyzed all the safety considerations in particular, that we were able to identify nine areas where connectivity would be a good opportunity to the standard trail.”

Only registered, licensed and insured, off-highway vehicles can operate on the shoulder, or the roadway, in these six pilot areas, as long as the operator has a valid driver’s licence. When operating in pilot areas, off-highway vehicles will be limited to speeds of no more than 25km/h.

“We’re pleased the government has fulfilled its commitment to advance this project,” said Barry Barnet, executive director of the ATV Association of Nova Scotia. “This will go a long way to support our work of building an interconnected trail network across Nova Scotia and spreading the message of safe responsible off-highway vehicle use.”

Despite concerns of the locations being politically motivated, Hines said that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“What we did in this instance, we went to experts – the ATV Association of Nova Scotia and the actual clubs that are the ones who are the trail users and know that where the connectivity would be most useful.”

In the instance of Sherbrooke, Hines said the active clubs in the area were asked to make a recommendation as to where would be the best place that would provide connectivity.

“They came back on their own and recommended the 1.5km in the Sherbrooke area,” Hines said. “Because they’re telling me that they can now go from Queensport to almost Dartmouth through the trail system.”

As of right now, Hines said there are no plans for additional sections of road in the Strait area to be added but the pilot will be used to gather information, see how it’s accepted in communities and to see what the safety record would be.

“Then we’ll make a decision to see how far we’ll expand it in the future,” he said. “We’re pleased to be able to find a solution to give us an opportunity to really study the practicality and certainly from the safety perspective to opening up our roadways to the off-highway vehicle sector.”