These are conceptual plans of the new roundabout which will replace the Port Hastings rotary.

ANTIGONISH: Work has started and will continue through next year to replace the current Port Hastings rotary with a roundabout.

Jamie Chisholm, Director of the Eastern District for the Department of Public Works, told The Reporter the new roundabout will be centered west of the existing rotary.

Chisholm said the department decided to split the project into two parts because of the amount of work required.

In this current phase, which is underway and expected to finish early in the new year, Chisholm said crews are doing “heavy ground work” which is mainly “off shoulder” work that has little impact on traffic.

“There’s quite a bit of cuts and fills, and material that has to be placed outside the travel lanes in order to bring things up to grade,” Chisholm explained. “There’s in between where the roundabout is and the swing bridge. Then they have to fill in, there’s quite a hole there where they cleared, so they have to fill that in.”

Chisholm said the design work for the second phase is being finalized. He said a tender for this work should be coming out in late winter, or early spring.

“That’ll be for the actual construction of the gravels, and the roundabout, and making changes to the legs that come in and out of it,” he explained.

Chisholm said crews are going to widen the west bound lane between the new roundabout and the swing bridge. He said there will be two lanes west bound from the new roundabout to the Canso Canal, which will double the amount of available space when the swing bridge opens for marine traffic.

“The reason we’re doing this is to allow for a little extra storage when the bridge gets open. Part of the problem is that when the bridge opens, and traffic backs up, once they back up from the bridge into the existing rotary, that’s when things start to get jammed up,” he said. “It’ll help prevent the traffic from backing up to the roundabout. That way traffic is safe from Trunk 19 to Trunk 4.”

Chisholm said the second phase will “certainly cause disruption” to traffic.

“That’s the difficult one where we have to do the work, and keep traffic on, and do the tie-ins, and everything else,” he said. “All these projects that we do like this, part of the mandate is to keep traffic going. There may be some stop and go traffic, depending on how the contractor tackles but it will be disruptive some next year for sure.”

Along with work to the rotary, Chisholm said the signage and beautification work – which has been discussed by local municipal councils – around the rotary will also be included in the second tender.

“There have been some discussions with some of the other stakeholders along the way,” he noted. “There’s conversation about things like that.”

In addition to providing a more aesthetically pleasing welcome to Cape Breton, Chisholm said vegetation has another purpose.

“We have some plantings in the centre, and they’re actually there by design, not just to make things pretty,” he said. “The whole idea of the roundabout is you want to focus on one thing, and one thing only, and that is your merge with your traffic that’s already in the circle. A lot of the vegetation is there to take away the view elsewhere so it doesn’t distract you.”

During a presentation to Inverness Municipal Council in January, 2020, Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton said the Strait of Canso Causeway Gateway Project is trying to improve the “confusing design” of the rotary, and make landscaping and maintenance upgrades.

The mayor said accommodations in that area are dated, the property is in “poor aesthetical shape” and there no active transportation infrastructure around the rotary.

Chisholm-Beaton said the Visitor Information Centre in Port Hastings can be overhauled dramatically, and signage inviting folks to return can be erected.

Much can be done in terms of streetscapes, beautification, façade, signage and way-finding, access management, active transportation infrastructure, and possibility for new tourism assets and infrastructure, the mayor noted.

The Strait of Canso Causeway Gateway Project is an effort to address those problems, the mayor said. In the project, all five municipal governments and all five First Nations joined forces with the province and federal government, as well as other stakeholders, like the Cape Breton Partnership.

While there have been some complaints about replacing the rotary, Chisholm insists it’s a safer option that will be less confusing. Noting there are roundabouts in Antigonish County, Whycocomagh and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, he said they are nothing new to Strait area motorists.

“Sometimes it takes people a little while to get used to it; they haven’t driven on it before,” he said. “Just about 100 per cent of the time, once people are used to it, they see the safety benefits.”

The current lay-out is outdated, Chisholm said, adding the roundabout is a step in the right direction to resolve current safety issues at the rotary.

“When you’re leaving Port Hawkesbury now and trying to come out there, you’re looking at the traffic coming out from the bridge, then you’re trying to figure out if they’re going to go right into Port Hawkesbury, or left up the 105, and as soon as you cross, you’re trying to see if anyone is coming down the 105,” he added. “It should help out a lot with those decision points. When you get in the roundabout, there’s really one decision to get in and one decision to get out, and you’re gone on your merry way.”