It’s a green light for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
The provincial environmental department has approved the plans to twin Highway 104 between Antigonish and Sutherland’s River.
Environment minister Margaret Miller released a Jan. 29 decision approving an environmental impact assessment on the region between Antigonish and Sutherland’s River, where the government plans to twin the highway.
The twinning will affect a 28-km stretch of highway between Sutherland’s River in Pictou County and Addington Forks in Antigonish County.
According to Marla MacInnis, a provincial media adviser, the project includes 10 km of new highway and 28 km of existing highway.
“Given the large area that this project spans across, a lot of work went into collecting data on-site, and analyzing it ahead of registering the project for an environmental assessment,” MacInnis wrote in an email to the Casket.
The work to obtain approval was thorough. MacInnis said the conditions for the approval required plans for the following:
• Surface water monitoring;
• Erosion and sediment control;
• Water supply well sampling;
• Wildlife management;
• Dust suppression;
• Complaint resolution;
• Archaeological shovel testing;
• Mi’kmaw communication
MacInnis noted other work being carried out on the project includes land acquisition, and a Mi’kmaw ecological knowledge study.
Miller wrote to Bonnie Miles-Dunn, the director of highway engineering and capital programs with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, stating the assessment is in accordance with Section 40 of the Nova Scotia Environment Act.
“Following a review of information provided by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, and the information provided during the government and public consultation of the environmental assessment, I am satisfied that any adverse effects or significant environmental effects of the undertaking can be adequately mitigated through compliance with the attached terms and conditions,” Miller wrote.
A step in the right direction
Joe MacDonald, chief of the Barney’s River Fire Department, is happy to see the process.
“I think it’s a very positive step towards the twinning,” MacDonald said. “There are a few more steps yet, before the shovel hits the ground, but I think it’s progressing well.”
MacDonald said there is only so much work an environmental assessment can account for, and that much of the challenges they’ll face will arise after the work begins on the twinning.
“It’s hard to study everything before the process gets started,” MacDonald said.
That being said, MacDonald praised the thoroughness of the environmental assessment, and expressed confidence in the involved parties, in that “they will make environment the thing of utmost importance as they move forward.”
MacDonald has been one of the most active and vocal proponents of a highway twinning, having seen firsthand in his line of work, what consequences await if something is not done to improve the conditions along the treacherous, two-lane stretch of highway that cuts through some of the most rugged terrain in Antigonish and Pictou Counties.
Last month, three companies were given clearance to bid on the twinning project; Atlantic Safelink Partners, Dexter Nova Alliance and Osprey Transportation Solutions qualified to bid on the twinning.
Designing, building, financing, operating and maintaining the highway will be awarded to a single firm through the budding process.
Part of the twinning will include the construction of new interchanges and bridges along the route.
MacInnis wrote that the official RFP will begin in the next few weeks, closing in fall 2019. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal expects to announce a winner of tender in 2020.
“We anticipate construction will begin mid-2020 and that the highway will be twinned by the end of 2023,” MacInnis wrote.
The twinning is being funded by a public-private partnership [the P3 model].
While the Nova Scotia government is cutting a cheque to help fund the twinning, information from the province’s website indicates it won’t be implementing tolls to help subsidize the twinning.