March 29, 2018 12:13 pm

Local fire chief ‘applauds’ Nova Scotia move to speed up twinning of Hwy 104

Highway 104, the artery connecting mainland Nova Scotia to Cape Breton Island is seen on Tuesday, May 24, 2016.

Andrew Vaughan
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A Nova Scotia fire chief who has dealt with hundreds of crashes on one of Nova Scotia’s busiest highways says he’s happy that the Nova Scotia government announced on Wednesday it will explore private sector participation in the twinning of Highway 104.

Joe MacDonald, chief of the Barney’s River Fire Department, says he “applauds” the move by the province — which could help speed up the completion of the project.

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“I do think it could happen faster if they do it this way,” said MacDonald, in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The sooner it gets done the better.”

READ MORE: Ottawa kicks in $66 M towards Nova Scotia highway twinning project

According to the fire chief, only hours before the province made its announcement, his crew had been responding to the 400th collision on the stretch of highway between Sutherlands River and Antigonish since 2009.

“This section has had 15 fatalities since 2009 and seen many more life-changing events for some of the people directly involved in these accidents,” said MacDonald.

MacDonald says the three fire departments that respond to the area began tallying their numbers three years ago.

Private sector participation

According to the province, the decision to include the private sector is aimed at improving highway safety in Nova Scotia.

“This is an important road safety project and we’re looking at all options to get it done in a timely manner and for the best value for Nova Scotians,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines in a release on Tuesday.

The province will now consider a model that will have a single firm be responsible for the designing, building, financing, operating and maintenance of the 38-kilometre stretch of highway.

The contract would be awarded through a bidding process.

The province would pay the winning firm annual service payments for an agreed-upon duration. However, Nova Scotia says they will not include tolls to offset any costs associated with the project.

The province is looking to issue a request for qualifications this summer.

WATCH: Province unveils plan to twin Nova Scotia highways

Answering the call

MacDonald says anything that gets the twinning project done quickly is worth considering. It would make the roads safer and the lives of first responders easier, he says.

“I know of a few first responders who have decided not to do it anymore or quit permanently because of it. It’s a struggle to recruit people to do this” he said.

“It’s not just the people who are involved in the accidents that have to deal with it. It’s the first responders … it’s a life-changing job to have to respond to multiple accidents in your lifetime.”

He says the sooner the section of highway can be twinned, the better off everyone will be.

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