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As the province holds public consultations on the prospect of twinning what are deemed dangerous sections of undivided highway in the province, road builders are analyzing the potential benefits such a mass scale of construction would mean for their industry.
The province estimates it would cost $2.4 billion to twin the 300 kilometres of highway the province is considering on highways 101, 103, 104 and 105.
While projects to proceed – if any – is still up for debate and an official decision from the province, Nova Scotia Road Builders executive director Grant Feltmate says a few things are certain. If it goes ahead, there will be intense competition for the tenders and huge economic spinoffs.
Those are benefits he believes would be particularly felt in rural communities such as Pictou County.
“The interesting thing about our industry in general and specific to the twinning is historically we’ve had really good representation from rural Nova Scotia for employees,” Feltmate said.
If the twinning project between Pictou County and Antigonish were to go ahead, he said there would likely be a substantial number of people hired from the area.
One aspect that makes twinning unique is that the roads will be built from scratch.
People will have to be hired to clear land, survey it and build from the base to the lines on top.
“There hasn’t been a lot of new roads built in Nova Scotia for quite a while of any large size,” Feltmate said.
But direct employment isn’t the only impact. Spinoffs from projects like this are huge from restaurants to gas stations to tire suppliers and local trucking companies. They would benefit during the five-year construction period, he said.
The last number of years, provincial budgets for road construction has been in the range of $200 million to $225 million.
“They’ve been relatively stable and we appreciate that stability,” he said.
But it’s been clear to members of the road builders that unless tolls happen, these projects will be delayed for many years. If they do go through, it’ll be an instant boom for the industry.
Already competition in the road building industry is fierce, and he expects the competition for tenders will be strong. Much is unknown about what the tenders would look like including whether the province will be looking for one company to bid entire sections or whether stretches would be broken into smaller segments.
“There are a lot of unknowns there,” Feltmate said. “Those decision will have an impact on how people tender and who tenders.”
As much as they see twinning as beneficial for business, Feltmate said those in the industry are also interested in the safety aspects of twinning because they are on the highways more than most people and understand the dangers.
One of the potential spinoff benefits from a highway-twinning project for Pictou County would be in the trucking industry.
Sid Ross, president of the Pictou County Truckers Association and a member of the Nova Scotia Truckers Association, sees a lot of potential if the projects go ahead. His only concern is that if they are built using tolls the companies could avoid working with the local truckers associations, which promote the local use of truckers at a standard rate.
“What I’d like to see in the contract is that they’d have to hire local truckers,” Ross said.
The truckers association standard is for road building companies to use at least 80 per cent local truckers.
“It should go through the Truckers Association of Nova Scotia, all these projects, that way everybody gets a fair share of it.”
For example, he believes the truckers from Pictou County and Antigonish County should be used for the 104 stretch between Sutherlands River and Antigonish.
If the demand exceeded the number of available truckers, then the construction company could look beyond to areas like Truro to fill the need. The same hire local policy would work for stretches of highway being twinned elsewhere in the province, he suggests.
“It makes it fair for everybody.”
After public consultations on twinning are finished a “What We Heard” document will be compiled with feedback from all the meetings and presented to the provincial government which will then review comments before deciding any action. If all were to be done, it would be the largest highway expansion project in the history of Nova Scotia.