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Letter: Nova Scotia’s dangerous roads

To be blunt, the condition of roads across Nova Scotia is atrocious. Ask local residents, commuters, truckers, the RCMP, the DOT, etc., or tourists who bravely ventured this way- the response is the always the same. We have a transportation infrastructure in melt down mode and I’m not referring to extreme hot weather and oozing asphalt. Nearly every road in this province challenges drivers with an assorted collection of potholes, missing layers and sections of asphalt and rutted shoulders due to runoff. 

In spending time this summer, travelling across the province, talking with people, it is apparent our roads are in the worst condition they’ve been in for decades. I recently emailed those concerns to Lloyd Hines, my local MLA. Hines coincidently also holds down the cabinet position for Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. I described to the minister what I felt was the apparent neglect of this important part of our infrastructure and how dangerous conditions have become for everyone across the province. I suggested that both his mailbox and answering machine must be filled with similar complaints. 

His response was terse, pointing out that “Safety is the number one priority at our department.” Adding, “I will be referring your email to the appropriate staff.” Translation? Political speak dismissing my concerns. As a former CBC journalist, I think I can recognize politico boilerplate chatter when I see it.

In my email to Minister Hines, I shared a conversation I’d recently had while filling up at Cook’s Gas Bar in Guysborough. A RV owner from BC, on his way to the annual Stanfest event in Canso, commented on how bad the roads were here. It wasn’t rage. It was surprise and disappointment. I had to agree with him. Which in turn, reminded me of a conversation I’d had last summer with other visitors to the Eastern Shore. In that case, a couple from England. The husband looked at me and said with a straight face, “You don’t like tourists here, do you?” I was baffled by the question and asked why he said that. “Because,” he replied, “your roadways are downright awful.”

Currently we have local bridge improvements in progress- but why is this construction occurring in the height of the tourist season? This is a time when we should be making every effort to welcome visitors, not slow their travels with flagmen, reduced speed limits, temporary traffic lights and delays. It is the deteriorating condition of our roads that I believe is negatively affecting our visitors and will in the end, cause them not to return; at a time when we need to be building our tourist economy. Earlier this year, I attended a series of Guysborough County Board of Trade meetings held across the county. The focus was on tourism, its branding, message content and style. At every meeting, sooner or later, the discussion focused back on our terrible roads.

But what really prompted me to send the Minister an email was a situation I experienced first-hand on Rte. 16 last week. A situation that scared the hell out of me. I was heading north on Rte. 16 from Guysborough towards Boylston. Approaching me, around a bend, a half-ton truck, well over the speed limit, heading south. As we passed one other, he hit a multiple series of deep potholes and the empty trailer he was towing lifted skyward- wheels off the ground. The trailer was swinging through the air into my lane- missing my van and me by mere inches. Granted the driver was speeding, but the chequered assortment of potholes were the definite culprits in what could have been a fatal accident.

In recent conversations I have had with provincial DOT officials (engineers and supervisors), I’ve been told that budgets are tight, etc., etc. So given this scenario maybe road maintenance funds have evaporated due to the provincial government pouring millions of dollars into the redevelopment of a US ferry terminal in Bar Harbor, Maine to be linked once again with Yarmouth. ($13.8 million to help Bay Ferries with services and an additional $8.5 million for the actual rehab of the US terminal.) The McNeil government, earlier this year, heralded this project as a great way to bring more tourists to Nova Scotia. There was a cost benefit for all Nova Scotians he added. Informed critics say no way. The lengthy U.S. regulatory approval process Nova Scotia officials are facing with the U.S. Customs and Border Services, as well as the deteriorated condition of the abandoned terminal facility currently being rebuilt, has see the project meet delay after delay- with this year’s ferry service from Bar Harbor to Yarmouth, NS now gone. The delays and the international arm wrestling over this huge, complicated project have caused Minister Hines some considerable embarrassment as he struggles to find answers posed by the media. In the meantime, the only way to reach the various regions of Nova Scotia, from the South Shore to the Cape Breton Highlands, other than by air, is by road. 

I believe it is important to take action now concerning this issue. I would suggest, if the crumbling condition of our roads is important to you too, then I’d urge you to contact your local MLA’s office, put your municipal council on notice and especially reach out to Lloyd Hines’ office directly. His phone numbers are 902-533-2280 and 902-424-2297 (Halifax) , or email: lphines@ns.sympatico.ca

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