Highway 103 between Halifax and Yarmouth has the unenviable distinction of being the deadliest in Nova Scotia and second deadliest in Canada, according to the Canadian Automobile Association. The section of Highway 104 between Sutherlands River and Cape Breton is not far behind. The untwined section connecting Pictou County to the town of Antigonish has proven to be the worst portion. The lucky coincidence that individual accidents on the 104 have involved fewer persons has helped to maintain it’s status as only a contender for number one spot in the province. On May 27, 2007, six people were killed on the 103 when a car collided with two motorcycles near Blockhouse in one of the worst motor vehicle accidents in Nova Scotia's history.
Motorists may well question why these major transportation lines are in such dire need of upgrades when over 1/3 of the price of gasoline and diesel fuel is taken up by taxes. A large part of the problem is road taxes that were originally earmarked for road construction and maintenance are increasingly being siphoned off for other purposes. For decades, municipal governments have seriously neglected infrastructure spending while overspending in areas like recreation and social gathering spots, to name a few. After reaching a crisis point, fixing municipal infrastructure decay is becoming increasingly dependent on road taxes. To add a new wrinkle, municipal units are being asked for projected future requirements of road tax funds for infrastructure to prevent hypothetical damage resulting from adverse weather attributed to global warming.
This modern pattern of taxation raised for specific purposes being channeled into other areas helps to enable governments to continue to overspend in areas they cannot afford. If the municipalities were forced to raise taxes to cover their infrastructure requirements we would begin to see the type of belt tightening that is required. The slow progress in twinning our major transportation arteries and the general state of decay of many of our secondary roads should provide a clear indication that every dollar collected in road taxes should be spent on roads. While motorists are quick to participate in the annual spring ritual of voting for which of the roads they use that have the most potholes they are less inclined to make it public which services they are prepared to do without to free up funds for those same roads.
For a few years now the federal government has been promoting it’s vision of an interconnected transportation network it calls the “Atlantic Gateway”. The Gateway’s aim is to develop transportation infrastructure within Atlantic Canada to enhance Canada's ability to capture a larger share of growing trade flows between North America and Europe. In the case of Highway 104 little more than lip service has been given by governments to the “Atlantic Gateway” as a path to future regional prosperity. The Trans-Canada Highway would qualify as the type of “nation building” asset required but it’s development has been proceeding at a snail’s pace for decades and this pace continues despite any rhetoric regarding Gateways. The more obvious and immediate necessity of upgrades to the connection between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland has for the most part been overlooked.
In future it is unlikely that the 104 can be held out of the number one spot without upgrades, not because of improvements on the 103, but because of increased usage of the 104. According to the Conference Board of Canada Newfoundland/ Labrador is expected to generate the highest economic growth among the provinces in both 2013 and 2014. While Newfoundland’s economy is significantly smaller than Alberta’s and it’s projected oil reserves are a fraction of Alberta’s the economic s around oil are difficult to ignore. Coupled with new activity in the mining sector and their announced intentions to proceed with the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, Newfoundland’s future growth promises to be significant. With that growth increased traffic between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia is inevitable. Although a recent trend, some Nova Scotian’s are “Goin Down the Road” to Newfoundland rather than Alberta for employment. The close proximity of that province brings with it the greater probability that workers from Nova Scotia will commute between here and Newfoundland rather than settling there. This increased movement of not only goods, but labour, will add to the traffic woes on the 104.
Whether the 104 is twinned out of economic necessity, or for its toll in lives, it needs to be done sooner rather than later.
- Al Muir is a local businessman and resident of Plymouth who keeps a close eye on the political front, both local and nationally. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.