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Fire chief hails upcoming highway twinning

['<p>There have been numerous fatal accidents over the last five years between exits 27 and 29 of Nova Scotia’s Trans Canada Highway 104. Fire chief Joe MacDonald and MLA Tim Houston are urging the province to make twinning the rest of this stretch a priority.&nbsp;</p>']
There have been numerous fatal accidents on this undivided stretch of Nova Scotia’s Trans Canada Highway 104. FILE

A local firefighter is hailing the upcoming twinning of Hwy 104 east of New Glasgow as a lifesaver after Wednesday’s collision, the 400th accident on that stretch of road since 2009.

Barney’s River fire chief Joe MacDonald says there have been 15 deaths on the 38 km of untwinned Hwy 104 between Sutherlands River and Antigonish, while others have been left permanently injured.

“It will cut down on head-on collisions, almost eliminating them and that’s mostly what causes fatalities when cars collide,” MacDonald told The News.

The steady stream of accidents has also taken a heavy emotional toll on the firefighters, paramedics, police officers and doctors who help seriously injured victims.

MacDonald said that one former firefighter, who moved away for unrelated reasons, did not join his new local department after the suffering he previously witnessed.

Nonetheless, MacDonald reminds firefighters heading out on a call that they did not cause such accidents and their job is making the scene safer, acknowledging that “it’s hard for everyone.”

“What we see, most people don’t see in a lifetime,” said MacDonald. “I don’t recommend you see it.”

A few hours before Wednesday’s crash, the province said they will look into a public-private partnership to speed up the twinning of Hwy 104, which MacDonald applauded.

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is exploring the use of a model in which the responsibilities for designing, building, financing operating and maintaining the highway is given to a single firm through a bidding process.

Under the Design Build Finance Operate Maintain framework, one firm can control the project’s schedule and reduce the timeline and the associated risks.

While the province is exploring a public-private partnership for twinning Hwy 104, it is not considering implementing any tolls to finance the project.

The province will issue a request for qualifications this summer, a step in the process to determine if Design Build Finance Operate Maintain is the right approach and whether there is interest from the private sector.

Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines said in a release that Hwy 104 was an important road safety project and his government was committed to completing it “in a timely manner.”

In the meantime, MacDonald urged motorists to drive safely on Hwy 104 and warned against overtaking other vehicles.

He said that drivers who overtake others will usually only catch up to another slower-moving vehicle and it only shaves a minute or two off journey times at most, but increases the risk of a head-on crash.

“Drive to conditions, drive to the traffic, drive defensively and don’t take chances,” said MacDonald.

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