A section of the uncompleted portion of Highway 101. KARLA KELLY PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
A joint Highway 101 task force is pleased to see that plans for the eventual completion of a 100-series highway between Weymouth and Digby are not dormant – even though any construction would be many years down the road.
The task force – made up of representation from the town and municipality of Digby and the Municipality of Clare – met earlier this week with representatives of the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
“The reason we called the meeting was just to get an update,” explains Linda Fraser, CAO for the Municipality of Digby. “We hadn’t met since last fall so we just wanted an update on what progress has been going forward.”
Fraser says the task force members were told about the department’s timeframe for the planning and design portion of the project. “And maybe within three years being construction ready,” she says. “But being construction ready, that’s one side of it.”
The project can’t proceed without funding, she says. Fraser says the province will soon begin negotiations with the federal government as part of the infrastructure Building Canada Fund.
“We’re very hopeful that funding for this project will be part of that negotiation,” she says. “This is a $100- million-plus project. There’s 26 kilometres of road they have to build and there’s a lot of access issues with land and that type of thing.”
The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal says a precise start date and the project cost will only be determined when funding is approved and the planning and design work is completed.
“The planning and design portion will take three years. The goal is to have the project ready and able to move ahead to construction at such time as funding for the project can be secured,” says department spokesperson Pam Menchenton, who says this will indeed be one of a number of highway priorities the province discusses with the federal government under the Building Canada Fund.
“Right now (department) field staff are in the process of completing detailed surveys in the area of the future highway to develop a land-use plan, which will determine access and right-of-way requirements,” she says. “A project team of planning, design and field staff has been assembled and meets to review information as it becomes available.”
The department says due to the magnitude of the project it will need to be developed in phases. “The first phase would be the eastern end of the alignment in the Digby area,” says Menchenton.
The section of road between Weymouth and Digby is the only section of Highway 101 between Yarmouth and Halifax that is not 100-series standard. It cuts through a residential part of Digby County and safety is a major concern among residents who live along this stretch. There is a school zone in Barton and the rest of the road has speed limits of 90 kilometres an hour or 80 km/h. Yet, says Fraser, people still tend to travel along the road at 100-series highway speeds.
On the flip side, people who do reduce their speeds traveling through this section of road find it a nuisance to have do so when most other parts of the province don’t have to contend with similar issues on their 100-series highways – although Highway 103 sees some of its sections forcing drivers to reduce their speeds to 60 kilometres an hour.
Gordon Wilson, the MLA for Clare-Digby, says while campaigning in the provincial election last fall, the completion of Highway 101 was frequently raised with him.
“Next to doctors and health care, Highway 101 was the main concern,” says Wilson. “There is certainly a lot of support out there to have it done.
“You only have to live on that road to know what it’s like trying to get out onto it. Some houses, the only way they have is actually backing out of their driveways onto it,” he says, with fast traffic and large trucks passing by. “When you think there’s elementary school children standing by the end of that road in the mornings, safety is a big issue.”
Wilson, who attended the most recent meeting of the task force, is pleased to see completion of the highway on the government’s radar.
“The province is fully supportive of it,” he says. “Now it’s just a question of finding the funding to get it done.”
Wilson says completion of the highway is long overdue. “We built the 101 all along this side of the province but people always ask, why isn’t this section finished?”