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Local proponents applaud twinning decision

Area to be twinned
Area to be twinned

SUTHERLANDS RIVER Joe MacDonald has proven hard work pays off, says County Warden Robert Parker.

Parker said it was the Barneys River fire chief who first started lobbying for highway twinning between Sutherlands River and Antigonish that caused him to take notice and push for the same goal.

“He deserves a lot of credit for getting a piece up there,” he said. “He hung in there when it was tough and got the signatures (for a petition). It shows if you don't work hard for what we want to happen, it isn’t going to happen.”

Barneys River Fire Chief Joe MacDonald

The province announced Wednesday it will invest $390 million over the next seven years to twin 78 kilometres of 100-series highway.  This includes a 38 km stretch between Sutherlands River and Antigonish that MacDonald has spoken about many times as being a dangerous zone for motorists.

MacDonald presented the province with a petition with 6,543 signatures in November 2016 asking that the section of highway be twinned within five years. In the past seven years, 15 fatal accidents have occurred on the stretch of the Trans-Canada.

A feasibility study regarding highway twinning using tolls was released in July, finding that the section is a good candidate for twinning, ranked third of eight highways looked at by the province.

MacDonald said Wednesday following the announcement that it is difficult to put into words how pleased he is with the government’s announcement.

“Fantastic, and it is an added bonus not having to pay tolls,” he said, adding he was in favour of a toll highway if it got the twinning done at a faster pace, but the province’s plan to twin the highway within seven years is acceptable.

The Sutherlands River to Antigonish twinning will take a little extra time compared to the other three sections because none of the design work has been done yet. Some land will need to be acquired and studies done for environmental purposes, but MacDonald said he is pleased they will open the twinning a section at a time rather than waiting until it’s complete.

Parker, who was supported MacDonald’s campaign for twinning by bringing the issue to county council several times in the past, said the twinning is good news, but he hopes it isn’t just a pre-election announcement.

“It is always good news if lives are saved, but I am a little skeptical. I am not saying it isn’t going to happen, but all along they said there is not enough money. If they are able to do it in five to seven years, where does the money come from? Does this mean other roads that are non-100 series roads are going to take a hit?”

MacDonald said he is optimistic the twinning will get done despite the timing of the announcement.

“We will have to hold them tight,” he said. “Geoff (MacLellan) hasn't lied to me yet.”

The province has said it plans to seek federal infrastructure money to help fund the twinning projects.  

Central Nova MP Sean Fraser said he has driven the road between Sutherlands River and Antigonish his entire life so he is familiar with the need for twinning sooner than later.

He said not only will a twinned highway in the area make the roadway safer, it will create jobs and improve the efficiency of transportation.

“I have made no secret of my support for this project in Ottawa,” he said. “Everyone knows it is a priority for me.”

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