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EDITORIAL: Rubber hits the road

People in this part of Nova Scotia got some welcome news this week in the province’s announcement that highway twinning would go ahead in three areas, including Highway 104 between Sutherlands River and Antigonish.

While many were holding out for that hope, the added bonus is that the job is to go ahead without charging tolls.

With no intention of seeming cynical, that comes as more than a pleasant surprise. And all the usual kidding aside about anticipated election calls, and when else do you get road work done – how is this mammoth project, involving a total of 78 kilometres of twinning in three areas, suddenly affordable?

The talk is an estimated $390 million provincial cost spread over seven years starting in 2018.

Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan in making the announcement said the province will apply for matching funds under the federal infrastructure program. That potential source, by all means, comes at a propitious time.

The one reservation – and it’s been raised before – is how the provincial funding dedicated to these projects, critical as they are, might be siphoned off the repairs urgently needed on crumbling roads across the province. It has been apparently impossible to keep up with these upgrades for decades, to the point that visiting tourists several years back complained they couldn’t take it anymore.

That’s to say nothing of the local people forced to travel them daily.

Not that anyone’s saying bring on the tolls. Following public consultation on the issue, the Liberal government learned that support was high for the twinning, certainly on the stretch beyond New Glasgow that’s seen so many serious crashes and fatalities over the years. Getting it done became an emotional plea.

Huge credit on getting this message across goes to Barneys River Fire Chief Joe MacDonald. His crew is the one responding and witnessing the tragedies first-hand. MacDonald’s campaign and petition for twinning persuaded many, among both the public and politicians.

Not so popular in consultations, however, was any reliance on tolls.

The Liberals knew, as any government would, how unpopular such a legacy would be among motorists, especially those in the area having to pay the fees frequently.

The pledge includes $30 million toward safety improvements outside these twinning projects. Sounds good, but it’s only a start, and doesn’t even address holes in roads that leave them far from safe.

An election call, widely expected this weekend, has many speculating what it would mean for initiatives outlined in the 2017-18 budget released Thursday. In that regard, Chief MacDonald in a letter in today’s edition urges people to question their MLAs and any candidates about their support for the project.

That’s wise advice.

People will also need to pump the government about prospects for other roads, how many balls they can keep in the air when it comes to highway upgrades in general.

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