To toll or not to toll – that was the question during a recent consultation session in Antigonish.
Hosted by the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) to a full house at the Claymore Inn, the gathering aimed to gather public opinion regarding the proposed use of tolls to pay for twinning eight sections of major Nova Scotia highways.
After an overview of the process from TIR officials, representatives of CBCL Limited, an engineering and environmental consulting firm, outlined the findings of a study they completed for the provincial department. Focussed on twinning and tolling, the approximately $900,000 study looked at traffic volumes for the eight highway stretches.
After small group discussions, meeting facilitators opened the floor for feedback and discussion.
Brendan MacInnis, former Antigonish County Volunteer Fire Department chief, said he “supports twinning with tolls.”
He talked about the “volume of accidents” department members have attended along the stretch of Highway 104 in their coverage area.
“It has to happen sooner rather than later – we just want to save lives,” MacInnis added.
One man, who noted he travelled from Antigonish to New Glasgow for 40 years, while working at Michelin, said he had seen “enough cars and trucks covered in tarps.”
He noted that waiting to complete twinning, without a boost from toll revenue, would mean that 60 per cent of the people at the public session “won’t be here,” when it is completed.
Provincial transportation officials have indicated twinning projects are part of their plan, but with the price tag and budgetary considerations, they will take decades to complete.
One mother, whose son died travelling between Antigonish and New Glasgow, stressed the need for twinning.
“We shouldn’t put a price on people’s lives,” she said.
While most speakers spoke of the need for twinning, all were not necessarily in favour of paying tolls.
“We don’t need a toll booth,” one man said, when he took the microphone.
He added “we have to have twinning, but do we have to have tolls?”
He offered a revenue generating option for paying the twinning bill, such as charging two cents per litre more for gasoline, which he estimated could generate more than $32 million.
Fraser Dunn also wants twinning, but not tolling.
He suggested the federal government should carry more financial responsibility, particularly for the Trans-Canada Highway stretch through the Strait region, which withstands a great deal of traffic headed to Newfoundland and Labrador.
One woman said it would be unfair for people in some areas to have to pay tolls, while others have received twinning without them.
Several speakers addressed the need for safer driving practices, along with a greater police presence along the stretch between Antigonish and Sutherlands River, to deal with hazards, such as speeding, drunk driving and texting while driving.
One man, who has travelled the same roadway for eight years, said he has seen “some crazy things” in his travels, which would not necessarily be solved with twinning, such as distracted drivers.
“It is all about safety,” he noted.
Another daily traveller suggested there “specific” sections of that stretch that are troublesome, and would benefit from twinning. But, for most, he had “very little concern in terms of a safety perspective.” He added twinning does not have to be a “blanket proposition.”
Bruce Fitzner, the province’s executive director of infrastructure programs, reminded that twinning is not the only option under consideration when it comes to improvements to these highway sections.
If people were unable to attend the Antigonish, or any other of the sessions, they can fill out an online survey to provide input on the topic at novascotia.ca/twinning/