HALIFAX, FRIDAY, APRIL 25, 2014
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Margaret Miller
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole on Supply will come to order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Madam Chairman, would you please call the estimates of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
Resolution E38 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $402,489,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I now invite the minister to make some opening comments.
The honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. (Applause)
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Thank you. I'm happy people are excited to see me this morning. It's a real honour here and we'll see how that goes. I hope the spirit of congeniality and happiness continues for the next four hours.
First of all, I just want to say that two members of our staff, Chief Engineer Bruce Fitzner, and the financial officer - director of financial planning - Diane Saurette are on the way, so they will be here momentarily.
I'll just jump into a little bit of the overview on department spending. Just to let the Opposition know, I probably have 10, maybe 15 minutes of opening; certainly I don't want to use up any extra time, as the questions that will come from the floor are the important part of the estimates process. So I'll move through these relatively quickly.
I'm just going to talk a little bit about the overview of the department spending. Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal's budget is presented in two sections, as the honourable members who have checked the estimates would know. There's operating of course, and then tangible capital assets, which is a large pool for many of our major construction projects. There's a change in our budget this year for many reasons, which we will get into a little bit by way of questions, but it has to do with the new department, the Department of Internal Services, and how some of those functions that were under Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal now transfer to the honourable Minister for Internal Services.
I want to take a moment to reiterate my confidence in the budget and the ability to support major initiatives such as the five-year highway improvement plan, ongoing road maintenance and managing major infrastructure projects. Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has some of the best employees in government. They work hard and we are proud of their work and they are proud to keep our roads and highways safe for Nova Scotians.
As part of that budget explanation, on the operating side, this is the money used for the day-to-day operations of the department such as snow and ice control, highway and bridge maintenance, field operations, fleet amortization, ferry operations, vehicle compliance, engineering and construction services, administration, professional services, employee benefits, RIM work, and smaller highway and building projects. Just looking at the numbers, we have about a $23 million decrease estimate over estimate from last year; we're at about $402 million this year versus $425 million for the 2013-14 season. A lot of that, as the members will see, has to do directly with the transferring of public works to the Internal Services Department.
The second portion of our budget, is tangible capital assets - TCA. This money is for larger capital projects including major construction and renovations. Estimate over estimate, this is down about $18 million, from $299 million last year to $281 million for this year. That is estimate to estimate.
Some of the quick highlights from our budget this year. We're investing $235 million for highway capital in 2014-15. Funding for the road improvement program - that's the RIM program - increased by $1 million to $16 million. This fund is used for paving, patching, gravelling and brush clearing. Just on that note, that is a very important piece of the budgetary allotment for Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, as this is the money that the staff use to fix the pieces of the road that need desperate repair. This is the time as the thaw leaves the ground and the roads begin to take the shape for the summer and Fall season - that's when the RIM budget becomes important.
Fixing those holes and patching the areas that need it are important for the RIM. We were able to add $1 million. Again, $16 million isn't nearly enough to do all the roads in Nova Scotia, but obviously we've prioritized as best we can and do our best to meet those goals.
The $13.5 million Indian Sluice Bridge is expected to open in June, so I will do my best to join the member for Argyle-Barrington on that project. I know that that's a big one for the community. That was one of those bridges we talked about a number of weeks ago when a few of the members had questions about the bridges in our province. The Indian Sluice Bridge was very old - I believe that was one that accommodated trains at one point - and it was time to replace that. I know that the member for Argyle-Barrington has been working hard on that one for the last number of years and the fact that it's open this year is going to be very good news for his community. I think there will be an official opening, and again, we'll endeavour to get down there and share that good news with the community.
We're, of course, working on the Sydney River bridge. That's proceeding nicely. I'm not sure if the member for Northside-Westmount agreed when he asked questions this morning,. I know he has heard a lot from people in his area about the bridge. It's a major artery, so I think that when you cut off Westmount and that side of the island and create a major detour for people, it certainly creates tough conditions.
But again, the Sydney River bridge was certainly one that required replacement. There was no way that renovations would do the trick there. It is a long project and a very detailed one. It is, however - and we'll get into some of the details - but it is on budget and it is on schedule, slated to open in December of this year.
I've had conversations with Jack Wall about some of the labour issues there. Of course, this was one that, just like any projects for any of our communities in this House, we like to see local content as best we can. However, the reality is that there is an Atlantic Procurement Agreement and we sort of follow the procurement practices of the Atlantic Provinces in concert. That's an important one for us in Cape Breton to get finished and we will finish that this year.
We're twinning Highway No. 125 and that's a big project as well. We're getting to the point where we're really seeing the progress. Again, there were many issues with respect to the engineering with some of the detouring that was taking place, but it looks like we're flattening out some of those issues and getting the bugs fixed. That's a big one for us. We're proceeding with that and certainly we look forward to that. There are some engineering pieces that we have to figure out, but again, we're at the later phases of that.
I'd just like to take a moment here to introduce the two members of my staff who have joined us. We have the executive director of Finance and Strategic Planning. She's a great financial mind and she has been invaluable for me in my first seven months. That's Diane Saurette here. We also have Mr. Bruce Fitzner, chief engineer for our highways within Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and he's a wealth of knowledge. (Interruptions) Madam Chairman, if they are so excited to see Bruce, maybe he can do this speech and I can sit down and have a cup a tea.
Bruce and Diane will be very helpful today. I know that with the members' detailed questions over the next four hours, they will be a wealth of knowledge and they'll provide some of the information that the members are looking for.
Again, continuing on with the major projects, obviously the building of a new Highway No. 103 near Port Mouton, building a new interchange at Highway No. 103 at Ingramport, between Exits 5 and 6 - that was one that is part of that Highway No. 103 conversation. Obviously, there is a tremendous need and a tremendous request for the twinning, certainly of the first portion of Highway No. 103. That's an area that, by all of our metrics and our measures, it's one that is required for twinning and it does meet that threshold. We're looking at that. The Ingramport interchange is part of that. That will be part of the ongoing dialogue with the federal government to make sure that there is money in place to continue on the route of Highway No. 103.
We'll be working, of course, closely with the Nova Scotia Road Builders Association as we move on many of these projects and others. We will certainly maintain a good relationship with the Road Builders. They provide a pretty staggering number - 5,000 direct and 2,500 indirect positions each year - so obviously a big piece of our economy overall. They do tremendous work. We're at the top of the pile in terms of the quality and the work that they do in the province. Obviously they're an important partner for us and for all Nova Scotians as we continue on with these projects and get them done in the name of road safety and keeping people safe as they move across the province.
The cost of building roads, of course, is steep. Building a single kilometre of new two-lane 100-Series Highway costs about $4 million per kilometre. A kilometre of new four-lane highway costs between $6 million and $10 million. They are certainly expensive investments and ones that are important for Nova Scotians, so we try to balance the fiscal realities of the province with what the greatest need is.
Just to touch a little bit on some twinning, we fully appreciate the public's concern and interest to improve parts of the Trans-Canada Highway in light of the collisions and, of course, the fatalities. The member for Pictou East talked about Highway No. 104. Certainly we hear about Highway No. 103 as we've mentioned. Highway No. 101 can be troubling in parts and has been for many years. Successive governments have endeavoured to fix and improve pieces of all of our major arteries and highways. We certainly do our best.
Again, this is all metrics-based, and we always - the term "the politics of paving". Well I for one, and I think all of us on the government side and all of us in this Legislature, understand that this has to be done in a professional way, in a measured, calculated way. We can't pick and choose between ridings and who should get the work. This becomes about safety. The roads that need the attention and need the investment will get it, and that's simply the way it has to be and the way it should be. We did make commitments to those particular highways in the Throne Speech and we'll continue to work on those.
I do want to talk quickly though just about this. It's a difficult topic because when you talk about the investments for highways, you've got to talk about the other side of it, and that of course is the role we play as commuters and as drivers. There are changes that we promote and all members promote for drivers' behaviours and road safety.
Certainly it's a shared responsibility, taking into consideration not only how a highway is designed but also how the drivers behave behind the wheel. Driver distraction, speeding, driving too fast for conditions, driving while impaired and many other reasons, account for accidents on our province's highways. These types of accidents are preventable. While the government will continue to work towards twinning our highways, drivers have just as big a part in making our highways safer. My department will continue to work with our partners in road safety to promote safe driving behaviours across the province.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, I'm going to talk about the Department of Internal Services. We lose approximately $43 million from our budget to the new Internal Services Department with the transfer of five key areas that will move to the minister responsible. Real property service - with the exception of land acquisition, we hang onto those - public safety and field communications, building services, environmental services, risk management/security services and Nova Scotia Lands Inc.
In addition to those areas and $43 million, this includes FTEs of about 170. The former staff that will move to the new department are highly capable and hard-working, and will greatly contribute to the success of the new department. We certainly will miss their services and what they've provided to the department, but I know that they will continue to do a great job serving Nova Scotians under this new banner of Internal Services. We appreciate them for their service and wish them well as they transfer to a new department.
Now I'm just going to talk quickly about some of the key points for our budget variances, and I'm sure there could be some questions from across on those. The reductions, again the $43 million from public works, the reduction in the single chip seal program of $2 million.
As many know, we've endeavoured to sell the paving plant and the chip seal operations. We were fortunate to have some better prices, which is a pretty amazing thing. If you look historically at the price of paving across the province, across the region and across the entire country, prices are at an historic low. As a department, we can't really take credit for that. There are a number of things that factor into that.
The reality is, in my perspective, it becomes an issue of competition. The fact that we have an Atlantic region that competes on these jobs is part and parcel of the reason why we've experienced low prices. When there are bidding wars, the winners in that are the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. We like to see that because it helps the consumer and helps the taxpayer, but that probably won't last forever, so we'll keep a close eye on that in the department and make sure that things are proceeding as they should. But at the end of the day, this is a market-driven industry, as it should be, and we'll let the private sector compete for those tenders that we put together based on our budget.
Also, reductions in injurious affection of $2 million - that essentially, in a nutshell, is the planning and the project work for some of the major projects. It is things that are almost preparation for the large-scale corridor establishment design, engineering, and ultimate construction of major arteries and highways. That's just some of the initial planning that goes in. There always is budgeted injurious affection, but we thought that with some of the projects and some of the timelines looking at us, we could reduce that number slightly; $2 million is relatively low, a small piece of that. Those amount to the reductions.
The increases: we have wage increases of just under $7 million; the additional RIM, as I mentioned in the opening remarks, of $1 million, bringing it to $16 million for the year; additional third-party recoverable work of $8.8 million; amortization increase of $5.7 million - this is one that if you look at the overall budget and really dissect the numbers, I think you'll see that amortization is a huge cost for Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. Of the $405 million budget, it makes up a significant component. Basically, we're forecasting out the costs of these major projects.
A lot of these, the highway work and the major construction projects, are 25 years out, so we basically carry those costs. And the total package for amortizations to the tune of $186 million, which is a lot of money to carry for costs for the projects that we've completed or are completing. That is a significant expense and it's increasing by $6 million, which limits some of the other areas in which we can invest, but that becomes the nature of the decision making and that's where the priorities of the government and of the department become important. Also, inflationary and capacity increases of $1.4 million.
Our highway budget - we're investing $235 million in highway and road maintenance and construction work this year. This translates into more than 120 major projects. It also includes a $10 million increase in bridge work from last year. Overall capital spending is down slightly by $10.8 million or 4.4 per cent of the $235 million we're investing in highways. The reduction in asphalt and paving budget will be offset by more favourable contract pricing, as I mentioned earlier. It also allows us to do the same amount of paving for less cost and a reduction in land purchase requirements based on the needs of our five-year highway improvement plan.
We understand the importance of investing in our infrastructure and will spend $535 million in capital projects and public infrastructure in 2014, which is a $10 million increase from last year. These projects will stimulate the economy, revitalize important infrastructure and, of course, keep people working, which is very critical for this time of year.
Again, just to quickly address the difference in the overall budgets last year over this year. There were two main pieces that seemed to be an area of interest for the Opposition. That was, number one, with the major construction envelope reducing by $10 million from $80 million to $70 million. Again, just to be clear, that is tied directly to federal projects and federal relationships. The relationship we've had with the federal government with respect to these projects has been a very good one. They've been very fair. I think the way they calculate and formulate their major projects is a fair one.
Nova Scotia usually does relatively well, but the reality is that we're sunsetting on one group of projects and funding allotments and we're moving to the next. This year in particular, you see that decrease in major construction because the reality is we can't really do any of these things alone. We would move at a snail's pace if we were doing major twinning and highway construction projects by ourselves.
The reason why that number reduces is based on the fact that we're not matching or contributing to a federal program. That in no way means that I'm suggesting at all - and never have - that the federal government has reduced the money. This is an envelope funding, so we agree on it at a certain time and we allocate that over a number of years and a number of projects and it's spent accordingly.
It's the same thing, if you look at year over year, with the federal contributions. These contributions are based on what we expect projects to be completed. We submit to the federal government when the projects agreed upon are completed and then they provide us with the recovery for those projects. So that's our estimate. We could really, hypothetically, make that number whatever we wish, but we try to reflect the true reality of what we could finish in a construction season and we go from there.
Again, looking at the numbers simply, there is a bit of a fluctuation. But when you look at the fact that we are sunsetting on one federal program to the next and the fact that the recoveries vary from year to year, it's in relatively the same area of our overall highway spending. That's important to note.
On the bridge investment increasing, there was a lot of concern and conversation. I know that members across the way asked questions about our bridges. We have 4,300 bridges to maintain. Some of those are over 100 years old. They were built for trains; they were never built for automobiles. That ironically makes them much stronger. The look and what the aesthetics of a bridge are don't reflect its strength or its safety.
We have a bit of an increased investment in bridge work for this year, which is a good thing. But again, looking at the 4,300 bridges we have, most are in pretty good shape. Some of them obviously are in areas with low volume and we'll get to the point when we take them on a case-by-case basis, but we get to the point where we start to have discussions about - are these bridges necessary or should they be removed from the inventory and alternate routes be used? That's a conversation that we certainly wouldn't jam on any community. It's one that all stakeholders have to sort of play a role. We'll provide our advice and our best opinion on what should be done.
I've said this many times, and I'll repeat it here. I have full trust and faith in our engineers. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience. They spend a lot of time looking at all our infrastructure, bridges being a key piece of that, and we do not let anyone travel on roads or bridges or any of our infrastructure that is deemed to be unsafe or anywhere in that area. We do regular inspections of the bridge, annual for the most part, but then increasingly if need be. We are very reactionary, and I think that's a good thing. Any time we hear of issues or concerns or complaints, or even questions, we get on that right away. I can attest to the work that the department does in those areas.
It's an important thing that we keep the bridges safe and secure. We will do our best to keep working on those. At the same time, I think that it's a good conversation to have with the public so they understand certainly what our infrastructure deficit looks like with the bridges and the fact that they never have to worry about the safety. We will do our best and make sure those bridges are safe to travel across.
For general infrastructure challenges, like all jurisdictions in Canada, we have major challenges that we try to address. Again, 4,300 bridges, 23,000 kilometres of road. We hear every day from residents, from MLAs, from councillors in their respective areas because things need improvement, and we do our best to get to those. Every road and every bridge is important to the community that uses it, of course. We understand that. That's why we have our five-year plan in place and we talk, of course, to stakeholders to make sure that their concerns are pulled into consideration for their communities.
This is not a situation that is unique to Nova Scotia, of course. Many provinces are facing the same infrastructure challenges. The department will be discussing a number of infrastructure priorities, including bridges, with the federal government when we meet very shortly to talk about the Building Canada Fund.
Just the final two topics; the first one is snow and ice control - again, a very hot topic for us this year. It was a rough winter, no doubt about it, with road closures and interruptions in ferry services - that's across the entire province, all municipalities were affected. It's a very tough one.
This is where I really want to acknowledge the staff. The fact that these men and women are out on the ground - they're in the equipment as soon as they can possibly get out. They've worked 24/7 for a number of months through the winter. It's dangerous work; I mean we see the magnitude of the storms that we have. A lot of the time, the plows are the first vehicles on the road and they deal with tough conditions while Nova Scotians become frustrated and they're upset with the processes and with some of the reaction times and whatnot. I can tell you that the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal staff are exhausted and it has been a real tough winter, so hats off to them. (Applause) They've done fantastic and we appreciate that.
I also want to thank Nova Scotians as well. Our communications department has been great in spreading the message that we've got to be safe. Road safety is about the decisions of drivers and when the roads are bad, that people, for the most part, heed the warnings. I mean, sometimes you have to commute and many of us are in that boat, where we have to fight the elements to get from point A to B. But Nova Scotians responded and they listened and they did stay off the roads when we asked them to, so that was a good thing.
Again, the budget for snow removal - and this may be a conversation and some questions from the opposite side - but we basically do a five-year average. That program and that mechanism were established by the John Hamm Progressive Conservative Government and I think it makes sense. What it is is they take a five-year average. Usually it lands in the mid-$50 million - $55 million, $56 million, $58 million range - and of course, we adjust accordingly.
Again, there is no doubt about it that it has been a rough winter, so we've had about a $10 million over budget on that - over pressure on that. It will come in to be about $66 million or so this year. Obviously we'll go back to our historical average. I think it's set for $58 million next year for the snow removal budget.
Look, the reality is - and this is the key message when we talk about these things and when we communicate to Nova Scotians - road safety will never be sacrificed for a budget line item, so for the department, when we need extra money on snowplowing, salting, and the operations that go into those tasks, then the money will be available. That's a pretty reasonable reaction for a government. There are some things you can't sacrifice, and that's one of them. We'll ensure that the money is there.
Now, having said that, we hope for a bit of an easier winter next year so that we can stay within budget and keep people safe and keep the roads clear. We'll cross our fingers on that one.
Finally, the last bit before I take my place here. I just want to talk about the MV Miner. As many members have probably noticed in the media today, we've extended the response period and the deadline for the tender bids based on the fact that there were a number of prospective companies that want to do that work who were part of the group of 20 who visited the vessel earlier in the month. They had some specific questions, and based on those questions, they had to re-tweak their bids and figure out what the costing would be.
We did extend it that week. We hope that with the numbers of people who asked for additional time and additional information, we hope that that stimulates the bidding process. Obviously, the more competition in that bidding pool, the better the value will be for Nova Scotians. That's what we're looking at.
Again, the timeline for the MV Miner has moved relatively steady from where we wanted it to be prior to fishing season to now, but the reality is - and I certainly take responsibility for that, not being an engineer, not being someone who has a real good feel for this project.
You only come to realize through the information as it develops how challenging this process is going to be. You have a derelict ship that's massive in size on a provincially protected beach with many environmental, occupational health and safety, and land considerations to take into account. With all that being the case and knowing the history of the MV Miner, we've got to get this one right. I know that Nova Scotians are supportive of the idea of removing it, but at the same time, we have to make sure it's done properly, it's done safely, and it's done right the first time.
When this process is completed, the MV Miner is no more. Then it becomes the challenge of how we pay for it and the legal ramifications of why the ship is there in the first place and the conversations that have to take place with the federal government with respect to this vessel in particular, but also the fact that there has to be a hole in the Canada shipping laws if companies can take a vessel with the intent of bringing it overseas, the cable line snaps, it lands on a protected beach in Nova Scotia, and we have no recourse but to chase this company down.
There's no way that's a fair and reasonable system. With all due respect, the Canadian shipping laws are complicated. They're broad and some are dated and some have been amended over the years, but this just can't happen. I think that our Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department and those who have been dealing with our federal counterparts under Minister Raitt and Transport Canada in Ottawa, I think the conversations have been very honest and fair and upfront about where we go from here.
In addition to what we do specifically with the MV Miner, we'd also like to see some of those laws changed because we can't pay for an MV Miner twice. I think that when these things happen, it becomes reactive, and I think the whole point of these types of laws is to protect against this. That will be a conversation that we're having, but in the meantime, our focus for the MV Miner is getting that ship removed from the shores of Scatarie and that beach and that area returned to the pristine site that it is.
That's it for my opening. I certainly look forward to any questions, and again, Diane and Bruce will be here to give me any information and specifics that I need. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Northside-Westmount.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: First of all, I'd like to thank the minister for his opening statement, his staff for being here, but overall I would like to thank the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal in general for all the work that they do. I know the staff in Cape Breton, the Sydney River staff and the Bras d'Or staff, do an excellent job. They've been very responsive to the needs and the wants of the people of Cape Breton. If there's a problem or a question arises, they're always open to us going to them in their office or taking a phone call and looking into the situation. I would say that between 98 and probably 100 per cent of the time, the problem is fixed within hours and the safety for the people on the roads in Cape Breton has been addressed. So first of all, I'd like to thank them and hope that in the future we can still see the same amount of service, even with budgetary problems and overdrafts on things like snow removal.
First of all, if I could, I just want to ask the minister, the Sydney River bridge has been out of service now for probably six, eight months. I just want to know if that bridge is on schedule, if it's due to open on time; if it's not, would we know in advance exactly how the timeline is going so the people in Westmount east can know to use or not to use that area?
MR. MACLELLAN: I thank the member for the question. At this point, it is on time and it is on budget. Bruce just mentioned we've run out of contingency time. I mean, obviously with these types of endeavours - it's a major project, a major construction. There is time built in for weather and any other disruptions, and we've almost hit that wall. As of right now, it is on time and on budget and we'll endeavour to keep it that way, which looks like to be late December 2014, so we're getting there.
MR. ORRELL: Mr. Minister, I understand that early on in the contract there were some labour issues and some unrest amongst some of the local unions that are capable of doing that work and the contract came from a company in New Brunswick. He already explained the Atlantic procurement process, and fair game, if that's the case.
I know the concerns and the wants of the local union people were that if that company had to hire people, would it be able to hire locals instead of bringing people in who were from out of province? I was just wondering if, in the future, would something be built into that RFP that would allow that to happen, or is that something that is or isn't on the table or in the books for types of projects like that?
MR. MACLELLAN: As the member knows, he linked Jack Wall - who is the representative for the local union on the ground there - and me. I also talked to Anthony Parsons from the Labourers' International Union Local in Sydney about this.
The member talked about the Atlantic Procurement Agreement. This is one of those things where there's an agreement in place and it affects all the Atlantic Provinces. Just like organizations, companies and firms from outside bid on our work; Nova Scotia companies do the same in their provinces. We do very well; the Nova Scotia companies do very well in the other Atlantic Provinces for sure. That's the technical side of it and that's the reality of the relationship and of this industry.
Having said that, I think the conversation about local content is an important one. It's very tough to formalize, I think, what the local content would be. The procurement agreement stipulates very specifically that you can't create some kind of awarding and some kind of points mechanism based on local content entirely. It's a difficult conversation to have with respect to how we change the laws.
However, having said that, I think that it's almost a case-by-case basis. I know that Bruce, along with Peter Hackett, had conversations with both the contractor and the union trying to bridge the gap. At the end of the day, I think for us, while we look at some of those components and some of the details, I think it's important that in the case of Sydney River bridge - there's no secret that Cape Breton is an economically depressed area. We need the work.
What I heard from a few of the tradespeople who would have liked to work on the Sydney River bridge, it's a tough thing that they tell me, that they would drive by the Sydney River bridge project on the way to the airport to head out west. Obviously, no member or no person in Nova Scotia wants to see that. That's a tough reality. But at the same time, I think that when we have outside firms that come in that aren't familiar with the local workforce, we've got to do our best to get to them and explain that we've got great people, we've got some of the best tradespeople in the region and in the province. I know in particular with the crane operators that we have connected to Jack Wall, we're second to none in the region.
I think that we'll always try to do our best to get local content. I don't think you can ever actually formalize it, but again, we'll continue to work with our Atlantic partners. There are always reasons that any government in the Atlantic region would have to try to help the local folks, especially in areas that you have high employment like in Cape Breton and the Sydney River project, so we'll keep that in mind.
I can tell the honourable member it's not something that we easily shut the door on and not want to sort of move along. For us, local content is important and any way we can shape projects so that there's local content, we'll certainly endeavour to do so. Thanks.
MR. ORRELL: Thank you to the minister for that answer. The other question I have around the Sydney River bridge area is that because the Sydney River bridge is out and people now have to use different routes to get to the area, they have to go around the detour there. Some of those major roads in that area have taken a real beating, especially this winter where the winter was harsh - the roads took a beating anyway - but because of the excess traffic on some of the back roads where it was a cut-across for areas. Instead of going down one way or another way, they came across that way. It was quicker. The road took a beating more so than it would have taken in a regular winter.
The residents in those areas are concerned that some of these roads have gotten excessive wear on them. I'm just wondering, will there be extra money figured into the budget to try to repair some of these roads or fix them sooner than later so that the people who live on those roads and have to use those roads will be using roads that aren't going to be damaging and dangerous to their vehicles and their well-being?
MR. MACLELLAN: With the contract, the funding allotment from the department and what the contractor is required to do is very local to the bridge and the sidewalk and some of the immediate perimeter areas. Having said that, when the project is completed, I can tell the honourable member that Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal will get on the site there, and maybe the honourable member wants to join our staff to just take a ride over those roads. If there is damage done - I'm sure there is from excess traffic on these smaller roads and local roads - then, of course, it will be our duty to fix them. We'll get out with the member and with our staff and take a look and see what we can do once the project is completed in December.
MR. ORRELL: Thank you, sir. I appreciate that answer. I guess the other question is, with the winter that we've had, some of the roads have deteriorated greater than some of the roads maybe that are on the five-year plan. I know the five-year plan is a working document that changes from year to year. Can he foresee any more roads being added to or taken away, and is that a continuous working model that there may be roads added to or taken away from that plan as needed?
MR. MACLELLAN: There certainly is that flexibility built into the highway plans. For the five-year plan, the large-scale construction projects, some of that is relatively rigid, but there is room for changes and alterations based on the priority. However, I think that some of the roads that would be in the Sydney River area that may be affected by the bridge project would probably be local roads. If that's the case, it's flexible on an annual basis.
Everything stems from the science of road repair and road construction. So when the staff take a look and they can see what the issues are and how significant the damage is or isn't, then we could adjust the plan from there. Any time there's local roadwork to be done, we look at that on an annual basis, so obviously things can jump the queue based on priority and based on necessity.
MR. ORRELL: Thank you, minister. I just have two short, little questions to ask. One of them is to do with the construction of Highway No. 125 between Sydney and Glace Bay, or North Sydney and Sydney I guess is the best way to put it, and other lines on the highway in the province.
Since I've been elected, I've been on the highway a lot more, and as the minister knows, he's on the highway as well. But the paint on the lines doesn't seem to be lasting nearly as long as it used to. I know in the Fall, after they get painted in the summer, shortly into the Fall, the lines, if it's dark, wet, the lines themselves seem to be disappearing really quickly. I know with this winter with the amount of plowing and salt and stuff that has been put on the roads, those lines seem to be really taking a beating. It gets to the point where it's dangerous.
The other question is, in the Sydney River area where the overpass is going from Membertou to the other side, there's a little abutment that comes out around there, and with the roads and the lines the way they are, it seems to pose a real danger. I've gotten a lot of calls in my office on that abutment and the lines. I wonder if the minister could address this. Is there anything being done to look at either changing the line paint back or to something different that would last longer or increasing the amount of times they get painted throughout the year? And could he look at the abutment that runs out around the new overpass in the Membertou area?
MR. MACLELLAN: There's no doubt about it, there has been a number of safety concerns and traffic issues along that corridor of the reconstruction and the twinning of Highway No. 125. The member hit it on the head; there was a change in paint. It went from an oil-based, lead-based, to a water-based paint and it's just not holding onto the road. It's probably a lesson learned for the department.
With the abutment, I have heard a few general concerns about that as well. I'm going to talk to Gerard Jessome. I'll get on that immediately and see if there's anything to be done there. I think that it's a fair question to ask. Again, people are looking forward to seeing the completion of that entire corridor, but at this time, there are some hiccups with respect to the project and we want to keep people safe. It's an important thing to keep the traffic flow going there. It's a very busy corridor for the entire province; the volume is very heavy. We'll look into some of those things for sure and I can get back to the member on what Gerard can do moving forward.
MR. ORRELL: I guess my last question is not really a question as much as it is an observation. In my area, there is one area that the municipality plows half the road and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal plows the other half of the road. The people who live on the road that are next door can see that one road is plowed and the other road is not plowed.
The departments - both municipal and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal - have been working hard to try to trade roads off so that they can do one road in one area and one road - but I think the problem that I'm hearing from both sides is that they like to trade roads off if they can, equal kilometre for kilometre, but sometimes the roads in one district aren't suitable, but they'd like to take a road in another district. Right now that's not possible.
I'm just wondering if that could be looked into in the future to see that if a road in New Waterford that's being plowed by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal could be picked up by the municipal road and another road could be taken by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal in another area - say, North Sydney. If that could be looked into, it would still work kilometre for kilometre, but it would be just outside that district. It might be a little more for one area, a little less for another, but I'm hoping that that's the case. I've been told they were looking into that. That's just a real observation that if that ever comes up, I'd like the minister just to be able to address that.
MR. MACLELLAN: We've actually cancelled all plowing for New Waterford, so we're not doing any of those roads anymore. (Laughter) I'm just kidding, of course, to my friends in New Waterford who may be watching.
AN HON. MEMBER: You've got relatives.
MR. MACLELLAN: Yes, apologies to my relatives who probably live on some of the roads. The reality is that the member brings up a very good point and we've seen this many times across the province. Highway No. 103 was a very important and serious example of this, where plows - even if they're entirely provincial jurisdiction - the plows just can't meet at the same time.
You look at the magnitude of the storms and the weather systems we've dealt with this year. The fact is that they just can't meet and, therefore, the consistency is not being seen. That's just on a provincial jurisdiction road in itself. Forget about the ones that have shared provincial-municipal jurisdiction. They almost never meet at the same point and you see a bit of a variation.
I can tell you that what we've learned from this winter season is a few things have to be at least reviewed and looked at. Of course, the amount of equipment that's in each region and the standards that we apply with that equipment is something that we're reviewing. We're hoping that Barb Baillie, who heads up operations for the province, is looking at a pretty fulsome review on those things. We'll have a pretty good understanding of where equipment may have to be reallocated and what new measures we'll have to take to improve things. There certainly were some tough situations and we can't control the weather and it was a tough year. Again, I want to repeat that the staff did incredible work.
But at the end of the day, we've got to make sure that we're optimizing all of our investments and the equipment that we have on the streets. The same thing - I know that the member is aware of this, that we had a pretty good round-table discussion with the CBRM. The Engineering and Public Works folks for Mayor Clarke and the council met with Roy MacDonald, Gerard Jessome, and some of our operators to figure out exactly what the member is referring to - the fact that we're skipping over municipal roads to get to provincial roads. So if we swap those, not only does it make more sense from a grid perspective, but it creates efficiencies, and efficiencies create cost savings.
That is something I can tell the member for sure that we're looking at. Any opportunity that we have to create those improved relationships we're going to do, especially when it comes to snow removal and salting because they're so important. I think that if there are specific issues with some roads sort of being more coveted and more interesting than others, then we really can't get into that game. If it's a provincial responsibility, then we'll do that and we'll take it on and make sure that the roads are cleared to the best of our ability. So it is a good point and we're continuing to work on that.
MR. ORRELL: I just want to thank the minister for his answers, thank the staff for being here today, and thank all the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal staff for the job they did this winter in very trying, very difficult times. I know I travel on the roads a lot, as well as the minister did, and I can't complain about the work that they've done. Yes, the roads are in rough shape, but they've done the best they can. I want to thank them for that publicly, and thank the minister's staff for being here today. (Applause)
I want to turn it over now to the member for Argyle-Barrington.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Argyle-Barrington.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Thank you, Madam Chairman. It's my pleasure to stand for a few moments and ask a few questions, maybe make a few comments. The first one I want to talk about is, of course, an ongoing project with the department now, and I thank Bruce for being here, as well, because I know he has been online with this one for some time now, which of course is the Indian Sluice Bridge. (Interruption) Well, Bill started it; the minister will have an opportunity to finish it. So that's good news for the residents of Surette's Island and Morris Island.
I'm just wondering if you had a quick update on the complete date. I know there has been some discussion right now, somewhere towards the end of June. I'm just wondering if you can give us an idea that it's truly going to be done and hopefully cars will be driving on it soon so they don't have to drive on the 105-year-old green bridge that's right next to it.
MR. MACLELLAN: Madam Chairman, I thank the member for that question. This is one that the honourable member has brought to the attention of the House long before I was in this capacity as minister. I know it's one that's important for the community. The member has kept me updated on the interest and enthusiasm from the community so I think that's a good thing. Look again, we've got such a deficit in infrastructure and when we get these good news opportunities like the Indian Sluice Bridge, I think it's a good thing for all Nova Scotians.
I know the community is anxiously awaiting the opening of the Indian Sluice Bridge. It looks like I can tell the member that, based on our estimates right now, it looks like the end of June will be the opening date and that's what we're endeavouring.
Again, as I mentioned in a previous response, the contingency for weather and those types of things obviously will play a role, so if we get really difficult weather, it may push it back but as of right now, it looks like the end of June. We are very aware that the community is preparing a large celebration so we don't want to impact that in any way, shape or form.
It's a great thing for the community, not only with the bridge itself but they are looking at some of the surrounding areas and infrastructure to do some kind of community park. They want to expand that area to create benefit and enjoyment for the entire community.
It is a good-news thing and I congratulate the member for working on that. I know that he will be very proud towards the end of June when the bridge is officially opened.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I know that the community is interested right now, looking at June 28th as having their ribbon-cutting and celebration. There are a whole bunch of things. They want to put out a commemorative book with pictures and stories about the bridge, Surette's Island, Sluice Point, Morris Island, and the area surrounding it.
You did mention the fact that there is an idea now to see if there is any way to be able to take the old right-of-way for the bridge and turn it into some kind of park, put up a couple of picnic tables and maybe a barbecue pit and maybe have a plaque commemorating the bridge. There are a lot of good ideas around there, and of course the invitation to the minister and his staff to come on down and celebrate with them because it is such a positive-news thing.
I don't know what I'm going to talk about in next year's estimates because I've spent almost 10 years talking about this bridge, three governments worth of it. I'm going to miss it but I know for that area it's such a positive thing. I don't know what the people are going to do right now because I tell you, just watching the construction, I don't know, we should have put a counter on the road just to find out how many extra people are coming in every day to see where they are in the process and what they've been doing because it has been an exciting time for all the residents of southwest Nova Scotia. I know people from miles and miles away who are coming in just to see how it's going. It is a tremendous time.
Again, thank you to the minister. Thank you to the departmental staff for a phenomenal job on this project. I hope they keep it up because it just shows the ingenuity and the commitment that the department has to safety, to be able to reasonably respond to a request that has been there for a long time.
I'm going to switch gears a little bit. The second question, now that I have a new area to my constituency, which is the new Barrington area - I guess is what you could call it, the new Argyle-Barrington constituency - I inherited a causeway. So we have the Cape Sable Island Causeway, which was built in 1949. Quite honestly, I think it was the training ground for the Cape Breton Causeway, so whatever they did wrong on this one, they didn't repeat it on the Canso Causeway.
The challenge that has been flowing around from that one is the lack of water flow. When they built that bridge back in 1949 there probably was no consideration or thought of the environmental impact of such a structure. There are a number of things that have happened from that construction. One is the migration of sands from Sand Hills and Sabim Beach, which are miles and miles away but the flow is now bringing that sand almost right up against the causeway structure.
Secondly - and this is not necessarily a proven thing - but fishermen will tend to tell you that the tuna fishery in the area was basically cut off because of that bridge. There was no flow so the herring that would have been going through the islands and through the little bays and then the tuna would be following them, ended up having to move offshore because there was no water flow there anymore. So those are a couple of considerations, environmentally. Today we probably never would have built a causeway that way but back in 1949, hey, you filled it in, put some top on it, and you had a causeway.
The municipality for some time has, I think, approached the Department of Environment and has talked to the federal government. We keep going around in a bit of a circle that if we were to do an environmental assessment of that bridge, or of that causeway, should we put an opening in it? Could we put an opening in it, and what would be the long-term effects of it? We just can't find a department to actually own the start of the discussion, and I know the discussion would probably be one that will go on for 10, 20 years anyway.
So I'm just wondering whether the department could at least think about seeing where we could start with a longer term discussion about the water flow through Cape Sable Island Causeway.
MR. MACLELLAN: I'm familiar with that causeway. I don't have too much of an intimate knowledge of these concerns, although I've heard them, obviously, through the department, just about some of the ongoing conversations and I think there are discussions with the municipality there and the warden about what happens next. I can tell the member, I don't have a specific answer with respect to what we're going to do as a department but I can assure the member that I can have a conversation with my colleagues, the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Natural of Resources.
I know there is some tie in at this point. The discussions with the warden are related to the Department of Natural Resources, so we can continue to look at that and we'll come back with maybe a plan on what kind of an inspection. I'm sure there has been some recent inspections there down on the causeway but we can take another run at it and see if we can get any new information. Again, I know the member knows this, but if this becomes an issue of safety, if that's the case, then certainly we'll dive in and do whatever is necessary to keep that causeway safe and strong and secure.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: And it is - I think it's a safe structure in the way that it's built. It is the overall environment concern that it has created and it's something that we've learned over the last 60 years of what has happened. As you're going onto the island and you look off to the left, there is a huge beach there now that wasn't there even in my time. I mean 20 or 25 years ago that was a little tiny sandbar close to land and that thing has come out hundreds and hundreds of metres and every year is coming closer and closer to the structure, even to the point where there is a little wharf that you actually have to almost sail around it now. I would give it another 10 years and you might as well forget about the wharf because the wharf is going to be completely blocked off by that sandbar that continues to move in.
I thank you for that answer. It will be a challenging one, but at some point we do need to talk about it and try to find a mechanism to move forward, and if the environmental assessment says, you know, it will be good to have a beach there, we don't need to do it, hey, that's the answer that we get at the end of the day.
Finally, I just wanted to commend the department as well. As much as we get those phone calls in our constituency offices - when's the plow coming or when's the grader coming and all of those questions - I know that my relationship with the department has always been a very good one, with my district engineer, with my OS's, and things tend to get done. Sometimes it takes a second call but for the most part it actually gets done. We are in a dry spell now, maybe we did have a little rain there yesterday, but the graders are out doing their work, getting rid of those potholes. Most of our roads are dry now so they're up to their regular maintenance time so it's all good news. I just wanted to make sure that you know to pass that on to the staff of the department.
With those few comments, thank you, and I'm going to let the member for Pictou East ask a few questions now.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. TIM HOUSTON: I thank the minister and his staff for being here and I do want to echo some of the comments that we're hearing. Many times in this Chamber we hear lots of talk about co-operation and trying to get along. We hear that but we don't often see it. I will give credit where credit is due and I appreciate that the minister has been very co-operative with, I know, myself and certainly the many members of this Party. I do appreciate that and I do think that oftentimes the tone set at the top filters down.
I will say that I've stopped into the sheds and garages in Pictou East many times and I'm always impressed with the quality of the people there and I know that their hearts and minds are in the right places, too, which is with the people of Nova Scotia. I will give a specific shout-out to my area manager, Troy Webb. If I call him up and say let's go for a drive, we go for a drive, so I appreciate that and I respect that and I attribute at least some of that to the minister, so thank you for that.
My questions this morning are about the RIM and more so just trying, because I am new, to understand how the RIM works. I understand that there is about $16 million for the province for the RIM program and that is mainly for - I think I heard you say brush cutting, culverts, maybe potholes, and I don't know if bridges are in there, too, small local bridges. Maybe if you can give a quick summary of what the RIM covers that would be great.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you to the member for the question and for the kind words and I certainly agree with him; Troy is a great leader in his area and we are really blessed. It is mind-boggling the amount of quality people we have in the department and sometimes I feel sheepish phoning them and chasing them around because they are very busy and they work their tails off each and every day, and again this is the time of year where they transition. They are so busy with the snowplowing and it's such a difficult battle for those winter months, and then they transition immediately into the RIM season and the patching season and the major construction season. Of course we heard yesterday, it was such a hot topic, the gravel roads and the fact that they've taken such a pounding with this freeze/thaw cycle and the fact that we've had a rough winter, so I certainly do join the member commending the TIR staff in his region.
The member is right, the RIM budget stands at $16 million and that is used for things that are typically outside of any of the contract work for roads, whether they be major construction or local roads. He is right, there are potholes, of course, any maintenance and patching we refer to it so that would certainly cover potholes. There is ditching, any of the minor work to bridges like guard rails and things like that, that's part of it. There is a certain measure of culvert repair that would be part of that although some culverts obviously are part of the larger contracts, when there is major or significant construction happening.
It is basically $16 million that the department and the staff use to problem solve. That's probably the easiest way to say it. It's distributed relatively evenly throughout the province, based on historical need and based on the requirements of the day. There is a little bit of flexibility there but I can tell you that each region depends on the RIM. Probably from their perspective it's their most important budget allotment because this is the money that they have the true ability to go in and fix problems right away.
The major construction and the long-term planning are important for communities and for people, but they don't see a lot of that. What really matters to people is not losing tires on potholes, and making sure that guard rails and components of the bridges are safe. That's where the RIM budget comes in, and I think the department maximizes the value of that. It is an important program, and they're just some of the things that RIM is used for.
MR. HOUSTON: I certainly would echo the importance of the RIM fund to the local communities. As a new MLA I've learned that - there's an expression that all politics is local. There's nothing more local or more important to somebody than the piece of road they travel every day, and certainly the piece of the road at the end of their driveway.
Just on the $16 million RIM, does that get allocated - does it and would it be at this stage allocated down to the area manager level, that these area managers across the province would know, this is my RIM budget for the coming season?
MR. MACLELLAN: It is allocated. It's based on per kilometre within each region, so that has been allocated. My understanding of the process is that each regional manager puts together their plan, so they basically tell us what their allotment is going to look like. They did receive that, and they're probably in the midst of crafting the plan now. Although, again, with the individuals that we have on the ground for TIR, they know a lot of this prior to getting their budget; they know what the requirements and the responsibilities and the priorities are. They do have access to those numbers now, and I'm sure they're in the midst, if not completed, of how they're going to spend it.
MR. HOUSTON: I thank the minister and the staff. That concludes my question. I'm going to pass it over to the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. LARRY HARRISON: Just listening to the minister talk over the last little bit, I don't envy that job one little bit. (Laughter) Not a bit.
MR. MACLELLAN: I can give it to you if you want it.
MR. HARRISON: I'm sure he would. The minister has been extremely gracious in all of our requests. I certainly want to thank him for that, and I could talk about roads upon roads upon roads of potholes and so on.
My only question really is on the back roads - the gravel roads. Apparently, some of the grading operators are saying there's not even enough there now to grade, I'm just down to bare rock now. I'm just wondering if anything can be done to get more gravel on the back roads.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thanks for that opening comment - I appreciate that, but just so you know, I'm very comfortable in this role and in this job, because I've been disappointing people my whole life, so this is just another day at the office for me, honourable member. You're never pleasing everybody, and it's just the nature of the business, but I think that it becomes about the importance of priorities and allocations. We do our very best, and I think we're doing a good job using the limited envelope we have - both for the major construction and for these types of local road issues.
As the member would have heard yesterday, we have about 9,000 kilometres of gravel road - unpaved road. How we do this - and it's connected to some of the RIM conversation with the member for Pictou East - it's really case by case. I can tell the member that I've heard from literally dozens of people about the exact issue, that the gravel has become so thin, and the dust in the area.
A lot of times gravel roads coincide with some kind of construction, whether it be quarries or pits or those types of things, which kick up the dust and affects people in the summer seasons. It is an important question.
Largely, the money for those gravel roads comes from the RIM budget, so there is a component of the RIM budget. Also, there are other allocations for gravel outside of the RIM budget as well. It's regional, based on kilometres in that particular area.
I would say to the member that the way we handle it and the way I handle it and the department for the most part, it's really case by case and, again, your regional TIR staff member, along with those on the ground who do this important work, they're very familiar - as you said, it's TIR folks saying that there's not enough gravel, so we take it case by case. Any of those extreme situations or any of the situations, you can bring it here to me personally or you can take it to your respective member for TIR in that area and they'll do their very best.
Again, they've got an inventory of what the priorities are, and some of those gravel roads are certainly in rough shape. I think that in the next couple of weeks we'll see a real hardening of those roads, so we'll get a better assessment. That's when we can get out with the graders, get some of the loaders out there with gravel, and do our best to patch them up.
It is largely a case-by-case basis, and gravel is another one of those things. It was very surprising, when I came to the department, to see the amount of money that we allocate for salt and gravel. The amount is really staggering. Again, we're just doing enough to keep up with the inventory of roads that we have. We're doing our best on that one, but it is case by case, so any specific questions or concerns, I think you could take it to the TIR staff and they'd be more than happy to try to help you out.
MR. HARRISON: I want to thank the minister for his answer. Good luck and thank you for caring.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. JOHN LOHR: I, too, would just like to comment. I realize the minister has a difficult job, and I do appreciate the manner in which we've been able to work together on minor issues in solving things in your jurisdiction.
My question would be - I would just like you to comment on the importance of the five-year plan in terms of - and how things get moved up or things that aren't on the five-year plan get done. How important is that five-year plan to your government's planning process, your department?
MR. MACLELLAN: Thanks to the member for that question. It certainly is very important, and again, I've said this many times in the Legislature, and I think it bears repeating because this is ultimately what guides us. With this five-year plan - I think the previous government, who established this five-year plan - it's a very reasonable way to go about things.
Again, we talk about our infrastructure deficit and the amount of money. I mean it's pretty staggering to know that we spend $235 million in this budgetary year - we have been for the last few years - and we'll be around that for the next few years. Really, you're just trying to keep up, and for lack of a better term, you're inching along with some of these major projects.
Basically how we do this is - as I say, it's very non-political for the priorities that you'll see in the highway plan and some of the things that are coming up. It's based on the metrics of TIR with some of the national standards for how you establish your priorities.
A lot of it is volume-based, so as an example, we hear so much about some of our major arteries that have significant issues of incidents, accidents, fatalities, and of course that's the last thing we want to see, as legislators. Highway No. 103, for example, is one of our big focuses, and you'll see that the Ingramport interchange is in there between Exit 5 and Exit 6. That is a key piece that would allow us to twin backward toward metro, so that's a stretch that's very important - very high volumes, in excess of 10,000 vehicles per day, which is the threshold for twinning. We basically prioritize it on what we see to be our most pressing need at that point.
Again, the relationship with the federal government is very important there. That's why we are very reluctant to ever criticize what the federal government does for these types of programs. The Building Canada Fund, the Gateway fund, some of these large-scale project envelopes are critical for us. When you look at some of the major projects that we have, we just can't do them on our own. It would take too long.
I mentioned Highway No. 103. The Burnside connector, Highway No. 107, is a massive project for all of metro. That's one that we've heard from all MLAs who are affected in that area, and many Nova Scotians. That would certainly be the number-one priority for a lot of people in metro who commute and know how bottlenecked it becomes, and Magazine Hill, coming from Sackville, and all points in between.
We prioritize that based on what we see to be the priorities, and also what the federal government deems. Obviously there's a federal presence here with Minister MacKay, and some of the MPs who are part of that government, they have their input. Certainly we talk to all the Members of Parliament to see if their priorities align with ours, and we do our best to marry the two.
We've had a tremendous relationship with the federal government. They take what we believe to be commitments and priorities seriously, and I think they allow us to guide how that allotment is spent. We do relatively well with these projects. They're very fair in how they allocate to the province.
The five-year highway plan establishes consistency. We can tell Nova Scotians exactly what's coming down the pipe for them for the next five years. It is a good thing, and as the member for Northside-Westmount mentioned, it is a breathing document, as it can be updated annually, but the plan for local roads is entirely on an annual basis. The member is talking about priorities and how we establish those. For the local road component it's all based on need and based on what we see to be pressing issues for Nova Scotians. That's the reason that there's some fluidity in the local-road side of our operations and our spending, and we react to make sure that the investments we make are priorities based on road safety.
That's a bit of a glimpse. I'm sure I'm pretty general there, so if the member has specifics, I'd be happy to oblige. Thanks.
MR. LOHR: I think I heard you say a number for the threshold for twinning, and I know all members of this House would join me in - as you know, as MLAs we go to many funerals, and the day before Christmas I went to the funeral of a gentleman from my constituency who died in the Falmouth area in a tragic car accident. I know that many of my constituents would drive to Halifax every day through that Windsor-Falmouth corridor.
I wonder if you could comment on - and maybe your chief engineer would know the traffic count through that area. What are the plans for twinning or fixing up that area, and does it - I'm assuming it must - justify twinning, the traffic count being very high through there?
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you to the member. Certainly it is a concern for us. We are very aware of some of the challenges there. I've been on that road quite a bit in the last few months for different missions that we've done through the department to get a feel.
As for the twinning, there are some sections that do meet that threshold of 10,000 vehicles per day. Obviously we're looking at that. We do have pretty significant plans that are in the works for how exactly we go about some of those areas, and that's the entire Highway No. 101. There are a number of short-term measures, and even during this session there has been - all the members associated from all three Parties who are connected to the Falmouth area and whose constituents use that corridor are concerned about some of the short-term things.
So there are some short-term measures we're looking at as well. For the most part, you can educate people and you can try to tell them of the dangers and you can create enforcement realities - and the police do a tremendous job on that stretch - but at the end of the day this becomes about engineering, and we have to do whatever we can to improve safety there. Twinning is always in the conversation, and it's that long-term funding that we have to work with the feds. Again, that area will be part of the discussion when we meet with our federal counterparts for the Building Canada Fund.
MR. LOHR: My question would be, what is the actual traffic count through that area?
MR. MACLELLAN: We can endeavour to get those numbers. We certainly have them in the department. I don't have them in front of me now. It probably would fluctuate. Naturally, the traffic would be at its thickest and densest as it's coming from metro. Of course, with exits and people on and off the highway, there's fluctuation, so we probably have measures of each section and particular sections of Highway No. 101, so we can certainly get that. I don't think it would take a whole lot of time. We'll get that to you for sure.
MR. LOHR: I would just like to ask about - maybe this is delving into the area of rumour, but there is sort of some indication that there will be work done on Highway No. 101 in the Clare-Digby area, and I notice it doesn't show up anywhere on the five-year plan. I'm wondering if you can comment on that.
MR. MACLELLAN: There certainly is discussion in that corridor as well, and there are some traffic-related issues and there are some challenges for the access. What we see a lot of with some of the infrastructure across the province is that there are not a whole lot of options for controlled access. I mean, ultimately what makes the highway safe is the fact that there aren't homes and businesses on a corridor, and they are very clear and free of those impediments. Obviously that increases safety, and that increases the traffic flow.
We are not at a point where we've identified specific funding. As the member mentioned, it would be in the capital plan if that were the case. We're in the planning stages. We've been engaged with the local municipality, and the local MLA has been involved as well. We're just looking at what sections we can do and where we can start.
Again, as part of that travel exercise that we did down that way I got a bit of a feel for what areas would be relatively accessible for some of this work and which would require major engineering and major design and planning, so what we've looked at is extensive design and planning, which means extensive cost. We'll work toward that. It is a priority for us to keep improving that corridor, and we'll endeavour to do so. We don't have the specific numbers now, but we're working on those, and we'll continue to move it along.
MR. LOHR: I realize you've already said you'd get back to me on this, but what would the traffic count be in that area?
MR. MACLELLAN: I don't have those numbers, you're right, and we'll get those - we can get them for the entire Highway No. 101. That will probably help you just get an understanding, and again, I'd probably benefit from seeing those specifics, as I hadn't seen them in one collective group. My assumption, Madam Chairman, is that it's probably under the threshold for twinning, just based on the traffic that I can envision being in that corridor, but I don't know that for sure. I wouldn't really want to speculate, so I'll tell you what. We'll put the numbers together, and then maybe we can have a chat about what the plan is moving forward.
MR. LOHR: I'm just wondering too, and again, this is probably - I noticed in the five-year count in Annapolis County that there is repaving scheduled. I'm wondering, would this - I had a constituent tell me there are now survey stakes there. Would there normally be survey stakes where there is going to be repaving, or is that an indication of something else happening in Annapolis County and Highway No. 101?
MR. MACLELLAN: Yes, the member is correct. There are survey stakes. Generally there is some degree of surveying done with repaving projects, so that's pretty standard for the department. If the survey stakes are there, then that could be an indication that there is repaving.
MR. LOHR: Was that in the five-year plan for this year, that that section be repaved in Annapolis County? I guess that's my question.
MR. MACLELLAN: Just for clarification, which particular section is it?
MR. LOHR: Annapolis County.
MR. MACLELLAN: Just quickly scanning through the capital plan, Highway No. 101, from Exit 21 easterly to Exit 20, 5.2 kilometers, would that be the stretch? Yes, that's in the capital plan under "Repaving 100 Series Highways" on Page 9, so that's the standard.
MR. LOHR: I'd like to switch to a different topic, and that is that I know that TIR is in on capital construction of buildings. I'm just wondering if you could comment on what is happening with the hospital in Kentville in terms of your capital plan or constructions. I know that there is something going on there, and I'm just wondering if you could let us know.
MR. MACLELLAN: We're just checking some of our information to confirm what we thought is the case. In a lot of these large-scale projects, TIR's involvement is in the initial design and some of the engineering work that begins, whether it's a renovation or a full-scale build. In particular, the Department of Health and Wellness and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development kind of control their own projects once we get past our first point, so that would be one for the Department of Health and Wellness to confirm. Again, we would have been involved early on, but at this point we're clear of that one.
MR. LOHR: I guess one other issue that I would have, and it would be true in a lot of rural areas, is that there are a lot of constituents concerned about brush cutting. As a farmer, I know that it was a number of years ago that the department stopped the spray program, and the brush-cutting program hasn't really kept pace with the amount of brush growing on the sides of the roads. There are many places where it's quite clear that if something isn't done soon, the brush will no longer be brush and will require considerably more investment in time and energy to remove.
I'm just concerned that it's near getting out of hand in some places and will become much more difficult and much more costly to correct in a very short time, where in some cases the brush is now small trees with four- or five-inch diameter trunks. This dates back to the time when the spray program ended, and would be what one would expect in a natural life cycle of trees and brush.
I'm wondering if your department has plans for how you're going to get this back under control. Do you recognize that you're very quickly heading into a situation where it will be much more expensive to fix in a few more years than it is at the present?
MR. MACLELLAN: Certainly we understand the point about the spraying. However, obviously it was environmental considerations that moved us away from that process. Just to let the member know, we're in the ballpark in that RIM budget that the member for Pictou East brought up earlier. There is about $2 million in that range just for brush cutting. It's an enormous challenge, no question about it. We hear from many people in that region on the brush cutting and the challenge. You're absolutely right: when you get to it early it's brush; when you get to it later, they're trees. So that's certainly a problem we have.
Similar to my comments for the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, that's one that I would really strongly advise that you talk to your local officials on the ground at TIR. If you could mention a very specific corridor, then we'll see what we can do to address those, because if that's the worst place, then obviously that would be the best place for us to jump in there. That's probably the advice I could give you.
MR. LOHR: Thank you. I want to hand it over to my colleague, the member for Pictou West.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: I know we're about to exhaust our time at 10:43 a.m., so my question is pretty simple. I get confused with chip seal and double chip seal. I believe that Caribou Island Road was either chip sealed or double chip sealed two years ago. It has uprooted completely. It is a complete mess. I know there are other chip seal or double chip seal roads that have been done in my area that have sustained themselves, but Caribou Island Road is a complete mess.
I'm just wondering if the minister can explain to me again what the difference is between the two, and if perhaps Caribou Island Road is a mess because it's surrounded by saltwater, and that perhaps it should never have been chip sealed, and what we're going to do about it, because it's a hazard. Just recently my daughter turned 16 and I had her out driving, and she was like, Mom, can we get a Jeep? It's just a complete mess after two years, so I'm wondering if he can answer that question. Thank you.
MR. MACLELLAN: If she is confused about chip seal, that makes two of us. I'll do my best to explain. Actually, the member brought this in a question very early on to the Legislature, so that helped me educate myself on it.
The single chip seal is used for existing paving, so it is to cover existing paving. Gravel roads are the double chip seal. With respect to Caribou Island Road, Bruce just informed me that there are certainly problems there, no doubt. We're seeing that across the province with some particular areas. From our understanding now, there will be soft spots in any of the chip-seal regions that we do and in the roads. It's the standing practice that now we have to go back, so we go back and fill those soft spots, and then we anticipate that the road will be relatively stable.
With that road in particular, TIR is getting back there this year to address those soft spots. Again, as I said to the other members, if you want to be part of that process and let us know where those particular spots are, then by all means.
MS. MACFARLANE: I appreciate that. I guess the confusion is because I think the rest of them are holding up okay, but the one in Caribou Island - I really wonder if they should investigate whether it has something to do with it being surrounded by saltwater. It's not going to be a patching situation. It's going to have to be completely redone. It's from one end right to the very end of the island. It is uprooted. The whole road is gone.
really think they should think about if it has something to do with the
saltwater, and perhaps you shouldn't be putting double chip seal close to
saltwater. I don't know. I'm not a scientist or anything, but it just seems to
make sense to me, because the rest are holding up.
MR. MACLELLAN: I thank the member for that question. By all means, if that's the case - our utilization of chip seal is relatively new to the province, so I think we'll probably learn. If that's the case, then naturally we're going to have an issue. If saltwater affects chip seal, then we're going to have trouble in a lot of areas in particular. That's something to keep in mind.
I didn't add this to the last one, but we do the patching this year for the Caribou Island Road, and then next year it requires a complete new layer anyway, so that's coming. We get that done for this year, and next year is the second layer, then we'll obviously monitor it. You can keep us apprised of that, because if there are problems, it could be based on the saltwater or it could be based on other factors of softening, so we'll get to those for sure.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time has elapsed for the Progressive Conservative Party. We'll now move on to the NDP.
The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Madam Chairman, you're getting the back end of the batting order to the minister. I'm trying to keep my baseball analogies to a minimum today.
I want to join the other voices, through you, Madam Chairman, to the minister and the staff, about what a great job his staff does - and he does too. Leadership starts at the top, and I appreciate that. In particular, this winter - I'm stating the very obvious - has been like a generational-type winter that we haven't seen before. The crews have been spectacular. I've got to say that in my office, between my home and office, I've probably got five calls. That's a credit to the operators and the dispatchers and everybody right down the line.
Some people may say, well, I didn't get this, and we get - as I'm sure maybe the minister does himself, he gets information via email from councillors, too, but direct calls and emails. There were certainly under 20, if I want to put the whole thing for the whole year. I think that's really a feather in the cap of those workers.
I think if there's a benefit of people who work out west now, besides bringing the money to Cape Breton, is that they get a chance now to see the conditions of roads in "have" provinces, and see the Cadillac version that we have in this province. I think if we have a problem here, it is expectations, because they are way up here.
As someone who is not that far removed from government, I certainly understand that. I wish you well in reaching and hopefully exceeding people's expectations, but I'm sorry to say you probably won't, and that's no fault of yours or your department. I think through the years people have this expectation of every road will be paved, every road will be plowed before Walmart opens and off they go. It's as your staff knows - and you know, too, that a former minister who's a very close personal friend of mine, who I think was a very good minister, and a very good member of this House who worked his darnedest and couldn't satisfy people, so Godspeed to you, minister.
You're getting the last three hitters in our batting lineup, because the Critic for TIR is over at DNR, so that's why you have to put up with us for a bit. I want to ask some general questions, especially - no surprise to you, coming from the Cape Breton area - one is the final phase of the twinning of Route 125 and the Membertou interchange. When do you expect that to be completed, and will there be a roundabout at the intersection of that and Grand Lake Road?
MR. MACLELLAN: Thanks to the honourable member opposite. I do really appreciate his opening comments, and we truly appreciate the work of the staff on the ground. They do tremendous work. I do receive those calls and emails just like the member and like all members of this House. The staff are incredible at what they do. They've had a very exhausting winter, and now they get ready for the summer pothole season and the major construction. We're very fortunate.
Again, I want to applaud the member. He's absolutely right. When you look at even provinces like Alberta and Ontario, we're pretty lucky with the infrastructure that we have. Again, you can always do more, and every investment you make in road safety is good for your people. With the paving, construction, and the snowplow, our standards are really second to none for the country. Those comments are very well received, and we appreciate that.
On Route 125, the portions that are under construction now, it looks like their completion to that stage will be next year - toward the end of next year, is our understanding. The question about the roundabout, if I can speak frankly - and I can't - we have a range of options for that area. As the member knows very well, that corridor which touches on some of his riding, there have been some significant fatalities and a large number of accidents there.
The Spar Road, the 125 interchange, is a very dangerous one. You see near misses almost every time you go through there, and there have been some significant accidents in that area. We have a range of about seven or eight options for how we could do the mouth of the 125 at Spar Road. What we've decided to do as a department is to engage the CBRM. We're going to bring our plans and our proposals down to the municipality, who want to have their input. I think this is one that, regardless of what we do, there will be some significant questions and concerns from the community.
Again, I'm just going to put this out there, people really fear roundabouts, and what I'm learning is that in a lot of cases roundabouts increase safety. The reality is that you have to slow down when you reach a roundabout. You're not really meeting anybody head-on at any point, which, again, is another important safety aspect of it. Once you get the rhythm of the mechanics of a roundabout, they're pretty seamless. I know there's an important one at a very busy intersection in Truro that has worked very well. We also have one at a different spot on the 125 that from my understanding hasn't had a whole lot of problems.
Having said all that, the significant level of traffic that this particular roundabout at the 125 would face - we don't really have a case study on what kind of problems and what kind of issues we would see there. That's why it's important for us to work with the CBRM, get their appreciation and perspective on it. There are issues of alternative transportation, and some of the trails that are being built, that were part of the plan under that member's government, are being continued, and it's a good program.
At this point, we're going to let the local municipality have their say and see what they want to do, and then we'll put it out to the public. All of this is for public consumption. We want people to see what we're doing. I may take some heat if that becomes the ultimate plan. I may become the Minister of Roundabouts in Cape Breton, but that's okay. We're going to do what's in the best interests of safety, and it looks like that may be one of the solutions, but we're going to keep working toward it. If the member opposite - again, this hits very much home for him - wants to see those options, then by all means we could do so.
MR. CORBETT: I would go on record today that if you become the Minister of Roundabouts, you'll have a supporter in me, not an enemy. We have to do things differently. It's as simple as that. I think the roundabout situation often is about resistance and change that people really don't like. If I'm in the car with my wife and we're heading off the 125 and taking that exit to Alexander Street, there's a fight - and guess who wins? (Laughter) So the accidents aren't necessarily outside the car - and I don't know if they're accidents.
I'm a supporter. I remember former Minister Ron Russell when he introduced some roundabouts - I think he was probably the first minister to introduce roundabouts in the province. There are issues with them, but I tend to agree with you as it relates to the overall safety. I think it's about getting used to it. It's something different and, as I said - I'm on the record, because you know off the record we've had discussions on this, and I said I would be supportive.
I guess it's leading into my next area, which I know I've asked you questions - it was a very short time allotment in Question Period - about the whole idea of what's referred to as the Sydney-Glace Bay highway, in particular Kytes Hill. There have been some tragedies there.
The reality is that I'm old enough to remember when that Sydney-Glace Bay highway was just a two-lane highway and it was constructed and expanded to four lanes, when places like CBU didn't exist on there. There were near as many residential, and a day when people didn't commute from New Waterford, Dominion, Reserve, Gardiner, Glace Bay, and so on as often as they do today into Sydney to either get to shopping locations or to receive medical attention at the Cape Breton Regional.
One would expect over a span of about 30 years or so, since that highway has been doubled in size, one could only imagine the amount of vehicular traffic on that road. It's one of those things that worked fine at the time of the construction, because that was the reality of volume. Now I'm going to suppose - and I don't think I'm wrong - that the volume is much greater today than it was back 30 years ago. I guess I'll use a baseball analogy - even you could hit this one.
I know that the study is being done. When do you think it will be made public? It wouldn't be fair to ask you what some of the recommendations are. Even if you have the report, you're probably still studying it, so I don't want to do that to you. What I want to know is, if there are any kind of substantive changes to be made there, what kind of priority will they be given by your department?
MR. MACLELLAN: That is a question that obviously is connected to the previous one, about the 125 as the Kytes Hill corridor leads directly from that mouth of the 125, so all connected there. I'll say that the member's comments about the controlled access, and that's what this becomes.
You talk about what you've learned over the years and how things advance. The roundabouts are a relatively new technology here in North America that control the road and provide road safety. That's part of an engineering component we can use to utilize and increase road safety. Again, these roundabouts exist all over the world, really. They're very common in Europe. In Cairo, Egypt, where I lived for a year, there's really no traffic lights at all. It's entirely roundabouts.
I think there will be some growing pains, no doubt, if that becomes the ultimate plan for the 125 and for Grand Lake Road, but I think there is a measure of improved safety. So it's going to be a conversation that we have, and I think people will ultimately get used to it.
Again, the member talked about the Sydney-Glace Bay highway. We would never - I've got Bruce here, who would verify this, as well as some of the staff who are in the Legislature today - build a highway of this nature in 2014. The whole idea of safety and the focus of safety is exactly what the member touched on, and that is controlled access. You don't want homes and businesses on a corridor that has an 80-kilometre, 90-kilometre, 110-kilometre limit. You see the major arteries that are built now, with Highway Nos. 101, 104, 102, 118, 103, 101 - keep going down the list - the whole idea is that there is no access other than for on and off ramps. It makes perfect sense.
Again, the Sydney-Glace Bay highway is littered with driveways, Cape Breton University, there are a number of businesses along that stretch, and the airport is there. That probably could have been done differently. Again, that's the benefit of hindsight, and now we deal with what's the present.
On that corridor is the Kytes Hill area, with Kytes Hill and Doolans Lane. What happens, for the benefit of the House that doesn't deal with it on a daily basis like myself and the member for Cape Breton Centre, is that this area is very high traffic. It comes from the 125, and it brings you into the communities of New Waterford, Reserve, Tanglewood, Dominion, Glace Bay, and then all out through Cape Breton Mira, Louisbourg - you access that riding from that side, you can with Donkin, Morien, Birch Grove, and right into Mira.
What happens is there's heavy traffic, and the Kytes Hill corridor and Doolans Lane are right turns off the highway. There's also access to streets on the left side of the highway, and it has become very dangerous. There have been very significant accidents there, and there have been a number of fatalities there, and it's a problem. To answer the question simply, it is a priority for our government and for the department. In fairness, this is one that certainly hasn't been started in the last seven months. This is a conversation and an issue for TIR that has been going on for a number of years.
I can tell the member that we had a public meeting with the residents and it was well-attended. Hatch Mott MacDonald is the engineering firm that is doing the prospective options for Kytes Hill. I think that there are maybe four or five options for how we would do that. Most of those included roundabouts. Certainly the long-term plan for that area included roundabouts. There was some talk about how many lanes the roundabouts would be associated with and some of these other things.
I can tell the member that for the most part, based on that meeting and based on some of the public feedback, people are not in any way afraid or nervous or concerned about the roundabouts. They understand that with a roundabout comes reduced speed. They are okay with that. They understand that it will slow traffic, and obviously that's the focus.
What they were really concerned about, and some of the things that we will adjust - again, these are only recommendations, but what we'll take very seriously is that the residents of the Kytes Hill area weren't big on some of the short-term suggestions that Hatch Mott MacDonald had as part of their consultation and their study.
Reducing the road to what they refer to as a "road diet," so creating a turning lane in the middle, reducing the speed to 70 - some of those things that were suggested really didn't seem to have the interest of the crowd that was there that day. I think the crowd that was there that day are very representative of the overall picture and the residents who have concerns.
I think we're certainly in the right direction with what Hatch Mott MacDonald came up with. I think it will produce a number of options, and I think that there's a few of those that are extremely viable. Again, we've opened up a window - I think until February 2014 - for public consultation. Now, as a department, we're reviewing what that feedback is and putting together the final plan. Like everything else, we're not going to jam this on people. We're going to give them the information and let them know what we're thinking, and of course, the public will react.
I think that there is a question between access and mobility. This is a very busy corridor, and I think that, again, part of the challenge is - the member opposite may regret his support of the Roundabout Minister, because this will be an issue of reduced speeds coming through that area, and I think that will be an adjustment for people.
The reality is that when you have an issue like this with Kytes Hill, it's very interesting and engaging and important for the people in Kytes Hill, because of these fatalities and because of these very serious accidents that have taken place, and rightly so.
There is also the commuting public who use that road a couple of times a day, who didn't come to the meetings. They don't know what the options are, and they'll never know until all of a sudden they're driving to work or driving to school or driving to the mall or driving to downtown Sydney and they see a roundabout there. There will be some reaction for those folks who aren't necessarily engaged at this point, but that's the responsibility of the government and of the department, to try to share that information and get that to people. We're going to do what's right and what's safe and what's the best option. We're moving toward that.
Off the record, we've had many conversations about this - the member and I have - and I know he's very interested. He represents that area well and he wants to see the best options, so he supports what TIR is doing. He knows that there are no politics in this. This becomes about what's a safety thing and the right thing to do, and we're going to do that. We certainly appreciate his input on that.
MR. CORBETT: It's also interesting because when we're talking about highways like that, there are many factors. There's the factor foremost in everybody's mind - safety and conveyance of vehicles - but some people seem to lose sight of one of the other major roles. We have major highways for our commerce.
I realize - what's probably going on in the high end - as you would know the area, minister - through you, Mr. Chairman - there is an issue from the 125 intersection going east toward the Glace Bay area, and there is another issue going west, if you want to call it, into Sydney, into Grand Lake Road and Welton Street. I know from time to time people are looking at building or expanding businesses there, and it seems to be that a lot of them are in a state of limbo because of what's going to happen there.
Is there any thought being given to what I'll refer to as the western section, or from the 125 toward Sydney? Obviously you are - and I'm pretty sure Mr. Fitzner is - aware of some of the concerns. There are car dealerships, there are other small businesses looking to expand, looking for another right of way onto the Grand Lake Road in particular.
I'm wondering if that will be treated holistically - as we talked earlier about the Kytes Hill issue - or will that be viewed separately and maybe done at another time? I've known in the past that a few businesses have contacted me. They've contacted the member for Sydney-Whitney Pier about issues around certain things that they're restricted - I guess access is the way to put it. That view of the study, will that be holistic - like, let's call it from the airport, just about where the twinning stops, right into what would have been the former City of Sydney limits?
MR. MACLELLAN: With the Hatch study for Kytes Hill itself, it's a very specific corridor, so that's going to be almost to what the member would know as where the Cape Breton drive-in turnoff is. It doesn't go as far as Cape Breton University, so everything stays as is there.
I know there are some developments in and around Cape Breton University, and they are a concern, too, but this, particularly the Kytes Hill section, the corridor there, that's very specific to that.
Moving westerly, the 125, that's obviously a major project, and with all the options, there'll be a big impact on that specific area. I know the member is familiar with some of the businesses that are directly on the corner of that mouth, with A.W. Leil, and there are some other contactors up there. As a department, we've looked at access management for that region, particularly the ones that will be the most affected by the construction and the ultimate layout of the intersection there at the 125.
The problem now is that a lot of them already exist, and as the member would know, it's probably our most congested commercial area - which is a good thing for our economy, of course, but we have to limit the impact on these businesses. Those who are closer to that intersection, it's almost going to be a case-by-case basis where as we develop the plan - and we'll use the CBRM as a conduit of information as well - to let them know exactly what the plan is, when it is finalized, what kind of distances we need around that intersection. But as of right now, I think everything we would need to consume and expropriate in terms of land, we know that's there now. There aren't too many land issues with respect to the businesses.
As for the access, I think we'll have to look at some kind of access management. The last thing we can do, and the worst thing for us, is to impact any business by this decision. So obviously road safety is paramount, no question, but we've got to mitigate and limit any kind of damages that would be done to a small business and all the entrepreneurs who are on that stretch, so we'll look at that for sure.
Again, with the plans that I've seen, there's no direct impact on any of the businesses in that area, other than some in that very immediate area of A.W. Leil, and I've been in contact with Mr. Leil on some of those issues. So outside of that, it looks like we just proceed and take it as is. Thanks.
MR. CORBETT: Thank you, minister, for the answer. Some of the previous members talked about J-class roads. I have to tell you, good luck. I've been doing this for 16 years, and I have to say my hair was your colour when I started. I think most of it is because of J-class roads.
My theory - and I could be wrong, and it wouldn't be the first time - is that the responsibility of TIR, whether it's snow removal or maintenance, comes from the 100-Series Highways and works down to trunk highways and so on. The J-class roads end up being kind of the lonely child out there, if you will. I could use some other phrases, but they wouldn't be parliamentary.
The fact is - and I know that's where a lot of RIM money goes and so on, that's what it is - it has been my observation over the years - and TIR have been good to enter into agreements about transfer of ownership in areas. One in particular I talked about would be the Scotchtown area. Not all the members would know it. I know the minister knows the area I speak of, where those J-class roads, for the purposes of snow clearing, were transferred over in a service exchange with CBRM.
That makes sense, because I used to tell this story - people in that area could basically look out their window and see the CBRM town garage in New Waterford, and the workers would be hosing off the snowplows. They would be finished after doing all of New Waterford, and these folks weren't even being plowed out yet, which irritated a lot of people, and which is one of those things why people kind of hate governments. They say, like, now isn't that stupid, right? Here it is, they've got plows, they've got workers, it's all there, and yet we're relatively the same community, right? Thanks to TIR and CBRM working together.
I guess it's a long way of asking a question about the ability of TIR to have the appropriate equipment to clear a lot of those J-class roads, because a lot of them - especially in older areas of Cape Breton County - weren't designed roads. They were some guy and a couple of family members who worked in the pit, and all of a sudden they built a road themselves. I know roads where people would actually have taken slag home from the pit, built the road up, got a road, and all of a sudden the next thing you know, lo and behold, it's listed as a road and the province owns it. (Interruption) As they say, it gets election-thickness paving.
I guess the point I'm trying to make here is, has there ever been consideration given - these roads really do not need the huge plows that do our 100-Series and trunk highways - to using smaller pieces of equipment to do the clearance? I'll use the Scotchtown example, where I used to get a lot of complaints about damage to fences and so on, because these were narrow roads. The operators did what they could, but the equipment is this big and the roads are this big, and so we'd have fences knocked over because of snow removal and so on. I've often wondered if TIR has given any thought to using more appropriately sized equipment in those areas rather than the exact same piece of equipment they would use to remove snow from our 100-Series and trunk highways.
MR. MACLELLAN: I had a couple of emails this year that said, thanks so much for paving my street, and now you owe me a new mailbox. (Interruption) So I can appreciate the point the member is bringing.
The reality is, again - and I talked about this. It's a down-home question, and it was brought to the House earlier by the member for Northside-Westmount, about the service exchange agreement that we're working on. It's one that even though it exists and you try to swap roads to fit each other's efficiencies and program and schedule and those types of things, it's still a work in progress.
We've committed this year - and I had some of our TIR people on the ground working closely with the CBRM. There was actually a meeting that I sat in with some councillors - Councillor Saccary and Mayor Clarke and Councillor Bruckschwaiger, and some TIR staff and some CBRM staff. They had some very spirited ideas about how we change things and improve things. This service agreement would allow us to better tailor the types of services we're offering.
The member is right. Ultimately, we have our fleet, and it's well over 400 pieces of equipment now. We do have single-axel vehicles that we use for some of the more narrow roads that we have. A lot of the time that will make sense, that the municipality would take that type of road and we would switch one out. In the cases where we don't, we try to use appropriately-sized equipment, but the reality is that when we've got certain fleet in certain areas, we just put them out there and get them moving.
So absolutely, point well taken - if we can use a right-sized vehicle for the conditions then we do that, but in the instances where we don't and we have to use the larger plows, we do utilize them on those streets to make sure that they're done. As the cleanup begins and the melting begins you start to see the effects of plows displacing gravel, for sure, and mailboxes and those types of things. That can be a source of frustration for people, but again, like every other component of the TIR exercises, we're doing our best to alleviate those.
MR. CORBETT: I just want to know where you got your Kevlar vest to wear at that meeting. I realize what you're saying. Under the description of no good deed goes unpunished, I was watching a news story the other day - I don't know what network; it doesn't matter - here in metro, and people were complaining - I remember years of complaining of people being responsible for cleaning their own sidewalks. Then the story was people complaining now because of the Bobcats and what they've done to the roads. So you know, here's the tail and go chase it, I think is what we're doing a lot of times. That is very tough.
I'm going to just ask a few more questions, and then turn it over to our critic. J-class roads - and I'll tell you, to be truthful, that I'm remiss in getting in some details to Gerard about priorities for RIM money and so on, so I have to talk some more to Gerard about that. I guess it's all right to use first names. I find a lot of times, and I'm asking - probably Bruce would know more about this from the engineering perspective, but people will come to me and say, look, really it has been years since X Street has been done. When you try to explain that there's more to it than slapping some blacktop on something and that they got to go in - I guess it goes back to a bit of the question I asked before, regarding how roads got there.
In areas there's not a whole lot of engineered roads. These were roads that were really - and I'm not being flippant about it - I remember them as a child, being built by people. They extended their property in some ways and gave their sons and daughters houses, and they banged a road through. As a matter of fact, for a laugh one night I was with Bruce and a former deputy. We showed this one family that wanted their road paved - and it really was a roundabout. They put a round in the end of their road, and so when they built a couple of family homes off it, and then they wanted to call it a street, and there's another one just like it - so it's good luck with that. I'll send them your way when they call again.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is how important is it, when you come in and have to resurface a paved J-class road, that it's not just the blacktop but it's the ditching and all of the other associated work? Is that the style of work that you want? My idea is that I'd rather pay the price up front than pay the - if it's $100 to do it right, rather than do the $50 one three times. I want to get the feeling of the department on that.
MR. MACLELLAN: To the member, certainly we feel the pain of the J-class roads. This is one that's probably a long-term thing for the department, and of course it always comes back to fiscal realities, for both ourselves and the municipalities. The municipal units are offered an allotment of money from the province every year to do some work on some of the shared roads, and the reality is that they usually say no because they can't afford it. It's one of those things that we budget for, but then the uptake is scattered. I think that's something that we've got to work on long-term. Taking the politics out of it, there are some challenges for municipalities. The increasing of costs for various services that they provide are weighing them down, so I think this is one area for our department that we'll try to help. Again, it's limited funds, for sure.
The member is talking about our approach for those roads and how we repair them. I think it's certainly easy to say that it's a case-by-case basis. A lot of it is on volume, and a lot of it is on the condition of the road.
When I first met Bruce and came to the department - it was probably only a few weeks - he showed me a graph that sort of describes how we do things. The member talks about frustrations and some of the perceptions of the public, and this is one that is certainly a source of frustration. Newer roads are cheaper to renovate and refurbish and strengthen than the old roads. So when you're on that sort of life cycle of a road, as you get towards the end and these roads are a mess, then the only option for them is to completely pulverize them and start over. That obviously becomes very expensive, so I guess the goal is - if you look at that spectrum between brand new roads and roads that have to be pulverized, where we want to get these roads really is somewhere in the middle of that spectrum where it's going to cost - he used the example, it's going to cost $50 now or $100 in two years, so we might as well invest the $50 now.
That's kind of the method that we use that we apply for a lot of our local roads and those secondary roads. We want to get to them - when you get to the point where you're rebuilding the base and you're basically pulverizing the entire corridor and starting over, that's when you get into the real money. For us, it's the value for money for Nova Scotia taxpayers. Any time that we can identify a road that needs an immediate fix, that's going to be a much more expensive problem later, to the member's point, then that's what we'll do.
That has been the challenge. Certainly there are no easy answers for the J-class roads. We're getting to them as best we can and we'll continue to do so, but it is a case of individual situations. If things change drastically, as they can with road infrastructure, then certainly the local staff signal that to the department and we do our best to address those.
MR. CORBETT: I'll probably end with a question and a remark, and then I'll turn it over to the critic. You touched on a subject that's very fundamental to a lot of municipalities in particular. One that I'm sure the minister has more than been made aware of is financing or at least partnering on J-class roads. I remember a time when a road got sold in the old county area, you automatically flipped to the ownership of the province. That was changed in the early 2000s, I believe, and now it's kind of like a partnership that the province would offer so much money and a dollar for dollar amount - like the 50-cent dollars is up to a certain amount. I'm thinking it was $1 million or something like that.
I know last year when CBRM, for instance, didn't do any capital at all and so obviously didn't avail themselves of that. I don't know where they're at as regards their budget. I'm assuming the option is on the table for the province still to do that. It's a matter of them finding the other 50 cents.
That will kind of be my question, if you wish to answer, or you can leave it as a statement, that's fine. I want to thank you again, your staff. It's trying times. It's amazing that there aren't more injuries to your workers for the amount of work they do, just by the mere fact that they're out when everyone else is home. People forget they've also got to make their way to work. If I can put any kind of plug in at all, it's that we as drivers and people who use the roadways - get out of their way, let them do their work, let them be safe, and let them come home to their families. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne.
HON. STERLING BELLIVEAU: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and to the minister and his staff, it's certainly a privilege. I can tell you that this is one of the most pleasing atmospheres that I enjoy of this whole job, these direct discussions with the ministers. I really appreciate our democratic process that we have to hold the ministers accountable. I enjoy the atmosphere of one-on-one. You get to appreciate and ask direct questions - not only from Nova Scotians as a whole, but as an interest from your own constituency. I just want to make sure that the minister is aware of that.
I'm going to open up with a question that, first of all, I asked on this floor in the most recent days and something I know the minister is concerned about, and I think all of us as MLAs in Nova Scotia - it's a safety issue. The safety issue is concerning a bridge in Milton. The previous former Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal identified the Milton bridge as a concern regarding safety. The bridge is roughly over 113 years old. It was identified to be replaced and the construction to start in Milton, Liverpool in 2014. My understanding from the department - and I've had some updates from your own local staff - that construction work is not going to start, to my understanding, until 2015.
I asked the minister in the earlier days leading up to this discussion we have today, can the minister bring us an update and more details on the evaluation of that bridge and can he confirm for the people of the Liverpool area - the Milton area in particular - the construction timelines? Thank you.
MR. MACLELLAN: I guess it's pretty much the same answer that I provided to the member earlier this week in Question Period. There's no particular reason why this bridge was moved back a year. What typically happens - this was my assumption and I just confirmed with Bruce - is that there must be some kind of - I don't know if it's in the design or in the environmental, I'm not exactly sure the specific details of what the delay is.
I'll assure the member that the residents are - nothing has changed with respect to the department. We're still replacing that bridge, without question. Now obviously, it not being in this plan means that there was some kind of delay. I can tell the honourable member that we'll get a note together on why exactly that is the case. We'll be happy to provide it and then he can share with his constituents and the people in this region.
Again, I said this in my opening, and this has been a bit of a theme with respect to the bridges, we won't allow anyone to be on an unsafe bridge or an unsafe structure in any event. So our engineers - and I know the member talks about the local department representatives regularly in his region - but we'll check on those details. There is no reason from my end. I just assumed that the project was proceeding, to be perfectly honest with you, so we'll get that detail back to the member as soon as we can.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I also indicated what I heard there was that the construction will commence in 2015, so that's reassuring. Over the last few months, the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has alluded to the fact and I - the Tin Mine Road - Highway No. 203, excuse me. The locals refer to it as the Tin Mine Road; I think the minister is familiar with that. I find it difficult knowing addressing roads because the locals have certain names for it, and we simply refer to it as the Tin Mine Road and the minister is very familiar with that.
My question is, during and since the minister - your government has just in the last six months, you talked about a possible option. One of the things that I know that has really brought my attention was the option of turning that road, which is a paved road - and it's one that has been a priority of myself for a number of years - and the option that I heard the minister allude to was returning that road to gravel.
I'm going to leave it at that because I'm going to get into other questions here, but to me that is not the right direction. I'm going to give the minister an opportunity to address that because I believe that is a main artery in that particular area for a number of reasons, for commercial use and for residents just enjoying the location of that. What I heard the minister say was that was an option that they were pursuing, so I'm going to give the minister an opportunity to say, what is the direction of that Highway No. 203, the Tin Mine Road? I hope it's not turning it into gravel and I'm hoping that the response is going to be that it's going to be repaved.
MR. MACLELLAN: I thank the member opposite. This was part of a dialogue during one of the Question Periods a number of weeks ago with respect to the honourable member and me on a question. I do agree with the member that this mechanism for exchange is much easier and kind of less intense and politicized as the Question Periods are, so it's easy to give a little bit more of an elaboration on the Tin Mine Road. I didn't even know the numbers until now - I just called it the Tin Mine Road as well, so you can see that I am familiar with it. It has been subject to media attention, particularly when one of the CAA's road lists came out.
The small-business owner who is obviously relying on that road - although I think they are at the paved end of the road or certain portions of it. What I can tell the member opposite is it doesn't - and I'll be very honest to answer the last piece of his question first - we just can't see the volume for it being repaved. I think that the stretch of the road and the very, very low volume is something that I just don't think we can entertain a full paving at this time.
However, having said that, the gravel conversation came from some exchanges between local individuals and the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department. Basically, it was that - and again being very open - that would probably be the best option for that road to get any immediate work.
I think the member may have caught the last exchange between myself and the member for Cape Breton Centre. There's a spectrum where you've obviously got the new roads that are in tip-top shape and they require very minimal, if any at all, upkeep, versus those that are at the other end of that spectrum and they're so damaged and destroyed that it now requires complete pulverizing and starting over.
There are a number of significant sections of the Tin Mine Road that are almost in that area, so what we're looking at - there was never any plan, I can assure the member, any plan at this point from the department to completely pulverize and gravel. That would be one of the options, for sure; that is not something that we've progressed on. I can tell the member that based on the replies from the community - not just himself as MLA for that area and a resident in that region, but other MLAs have said the same thing, and residents, even ones who understand that we have to make particular choices, they understand where we're at, but at the same time, they say full gravel for that road is not a great idea. If there were certain sections, maybe, but not full gravel.
We understand that, to the honourable member, and we hear that loud and clear. What we have looked at in the immediate is the option of looking at the worst areas, those that have to be almost completely redone, to gravel some of those areas just as a short-term measure and then look at the prospects of double chip seal down the road.
Again, I can tell the member quite openly that this is always a question of volume and the volume is very low. Now, the argument that you would get to counter, and I understand that - it is the chicken and the egg - is if the road was better, you would have more traffic. That makes sense too. I mean, when you connect the two regions that that road connects, it kind of makes sense that you could make that argument to a certain extent.
Obviously we want the Tin Mine Road to be in the best possible shape. If it was gravel for some of the worst areas at this point and then look at possible chip seal, we could certainly do that. Again, though, I'll tell the member that we're going to engage him and we're going to talk to the MLAs in that region and continue to consult with the public. We don't want to force anything on anyone.
The fact is, the conversation about making it entirely gravel was something that was one of the sort of immediate options. Based on the replies and the feedback that we've received, that doesn't seem like the optimal option for the people who live there or the people who use it. They would prefer for us to just continue patching as opposed to going to gravel. Again, the issue is that you can patch so much, but as the member would know, that road is in such dire straits that it's getting to the point where just patching is no longer possible because the road area, the infrastructure, the base is so bad.
We're working on it. We're paying attention to it. Again, I can tell the member that there's no specific plan in place and we're not moving forward on any plan to gravel the Tin Mine Road at this point in its entirety.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Certainly I may need another cycle of time to get into the question here. We're having a good discussion here and I don't want to get ahead of myself, but you talked about the criteria of how these are established. That's something I want to get into later on, but I think I need to lay the groundwork - pardon the pun here - and I need to lay that foundation to actually make a point and I think I can successfully do that. So we'll get to the criteria and the volume count later on in the question. It may be in the second round.
What I want to establish now is double chip seal. I can tell you, since forming government four years ago and becoming a minister, and the MLA back in 2006, roads in rural Nova Scotia - and I know that I've said this before: when you come to Halifax, it's like entering another universe. Please understand that this is because the roads in rural Nova Scotia are on everyone's minds, and especially gravel roads. We've gone through a really tremendous winter where we had fluctuations of winter thaw and the minister is very aware of that. So I'm laying the groundwork here for establishing a selling for double chip seal.
To me, I want to just back up and make a point that when I entered this particular job, the previous government was established and their policy - I'm not here to score political points but I have to make this analogy - is that the previous government, their policy was, never in 10 years that they had government, would never look at gravel roads. I went out and spoke to the members and the constituents right across my constituency. I felt that this was fundamentally wrong and I was convinced that we had to change that. I can say to my colleagues and the members of the House that we had an opportunity to do that and we did change that policy when we were four years.
This is where my question is going. I realize that, fundamentally, there were people on these gravel roads that held important jobs. There was important infrastructure on those gravels like wharves and people wanting to get back and forth to their work and they're taxpayers. There have been large developments over 25 years, and tor the previous government to say, no, we're concentrating on our existing paved roads and we don't have any interest in gravel roads - we changed that policy. We went out and said, okay, we need to do something and we addressed - we as a government, we started putting double chip seal in places like Clyde River and East Sable, and this is where I'm going with the question, minister, through you, Madam Chairman.
I could stand here for the next two weeks and give a speech on this, but to me, it's a simple exercise - for the present minister to go and do a road tour and hear the testimonies. This is my plea to you directly, through you, Madam Chairman, is to hear the testimonies on those particular roads - East Sable Road in Shelburne and Clyde River in the now new Argyle-Barrington - that is not staged, that is a direct - you go into the local store, you go to the local hardware store or you go to the individual who is actually working in the yard, and you ask those individuals. They will tell you that has been a life game-changer. To me, to know how important that particular policy is, to me it is a simple exercise.
My question is direct. To me, there should be a budget line each year that you can go out and do "X" in each constituency in rural Nova Scotia, and you're going to address whether it's going to be 10 kilometres or 15 kilometres in each given constituency across Nova Scotia. To me, that is a clear message of - people can see how you are going to progress and to address these roads one by one, and people get it, people understand that. So my question is, do you believe in double chip seal and will you commit to go to see where these roads have been done and get the testimonies from Nova Scotians and see how successful that particular project is?
MR. MACLELLAN: In short, I certainly believe - I've got all the faith and all the confidence in my department. I think they do tremendous work from the ground up, those on the ground who are plowing and salting and fixing the roads to those who are here in the department who guide a lot of these policies and decisions.
If the group that is surrounding me decided that chip seal and were part of the decision to bring in the chip seal capacity, then I fully support it. So I guess my answer to that one is yes. It's also a yes - if I'm down that member's way, I would be happy to tour the roads. I'm not sure how reluctant or open the residents will be to give me their testimony, so I'll have to rely on the member to make those introductions, maybe. But the point is well taken.
As the member was discussing, those two roads in particular didn't meet the criteria. Again, I think that this is the important part for us. There is this criteria set. The member mentioned this in Question Period about the politics of paving, and I agree with him, that by having these metrics and by having these standards and by having these criteria, then you avoid those types of decisions.
It did happen in the past. I don't think any Party is entirely clean and above that, but things are different these days and people pay attention. They know which roads are being done and they want to know, at least if it's not their road, that the decisions were made in fairness. With those roads that the member mentioned, again, they were double chip sealed because they met that 300 vehicle per day minimum that has to be there. That's good news for those areas.
The topic of late debate was the Old Ferry Road in Antigonish. That road is a mess. It has cottages. It has fishing licences - something that the member opposite could certainly appreciate and understands an immense amount about that industry. The fact is that they need access to their boats and the Sea'scape Cottages need to give their patrons an opportunity to get to that building and those cottages for next week during St. F.X. convocation. I think those decisions are important.
For me, this highlights a fact that the member opposite and I probably have a bit of a disagreement on. I really believe - and this isn't partisan talk, this is as two individuals talking about the roads and the condition of the roads in the province - I think it's very difficult to establish a five-year plan for local roads the same as the previous government, in which he was part of Cabinet. The five-year highway infrastructure program makes perfect sense because you can forecast the money, you can forecast what is required, you can forecast what that corridor is going to be, the engineering and the design and all those things and the effect on the community and on the economy, so I think it's good for that reason.
With the local roads, I truly do find there's a measure of flexibility that should be built in. If all of a sudden some of these roads - and we'll use the Old Ferry Road - if there was an increase in traffic, if there was an additional business, then maybe it does meet the threshold, so maybe the conditions change. I think that should any road not be on a five-year plan and the conditions change to the point where it would warrant a look at major improvements like chip sealing or double chip sealing, then that changes the dynamics.
I think that's the whole idea here, to get to those roads. We've got 9,000 kilometres of unpaved roads that Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is responsible for and we wish everyone who is on those gravel roads could have the same fortune as the residents of Sable and Clyde in the fact that they received double chip seal. We'll continue to apply those metrics and look at specific situations. Where we can pave, we will. Where the upgrades for gravel roads, like culverts and ditching and brush cutting, are required, we'll do that as well. So we just keep on moving and trying to improve road safety for all Nova Scotians.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time has elapsed for the NDP. We will now be going back to the Progressive Conservative Party.
The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. CHUCK PORTER: Thank you to the minister and staff for being with us. It has been a little over a couple of hours, minister. Do you or your staff need five minutes or are you good to go?
MR. MACLELLAN: No, we're okay.
MR. PORTER: Very good. Just a few questions from me and it's probably no surprise at all where I'm going. I know that my colleague, the member for Kings North raised an issue earlier. I don't think he really got into what I want to talk about; that is that particular section between Exit 5 and, I guess, Exit 7 and west of Exit 7, a few kilometres there that we've seen unfortunately some issues over the years.
I appreciate the offline discussions that we've been able to have and updates. Working with your deputy has been great. Mr. LaFleche is always fun to converse with. He tells me how others are driving him, as well, and I like to hear that because that's a good thing in transportation. I do appreciate what's going on there, but I guess just today, for the purpose of getting on the record, the fact that we're talking about it.
I asked the deputy when I saw him here in the House actually the other day about time frames. We were talking and one of my requests was about a specific area more than anywhere else. It was the Falmouth area, west toward Hantsport to where it begins the twinning. The opportunity may be there for a Jersey barrier. I know the deputy was out there and maybe your Mr. Fitzner may have been there as well. I think they were down in the Valley a few weeks ago and having a look at this.
The deputy explained to me that there are some issues with regard to certain areas where the road may not be wide enough but he thought at that time, perhaps that worst section, we might actually be able to do something with that temporarily, for the interim. I know in talking to you, minister, that we're looking at a long-term plan there, which is actually great to hear given that it has been no plan for the past five years.
What makes this such an interesting section of highway is as you're coming off two ends that are twinned and it bottlenecks, and people are thinking - they're a little more casual when they're driving, they're looking around, they're enjoying the day, et cetera - and then all of a sudden there's this odd entrance back into a single highway. That's really what's there. If anyone has driven it - I know Mr. Fitzner has driven it - and you probably do notice it's got a funny tilt into it when you come onto the bridge.
I guess really, on behalf of the people that I represent down there who travel that area, can we put a section in there of a Jersey barrier in the interim? Can we do some extra signage that says, hey, you're coming into a more dangerous area? Can we reduce our speeds through there? Can we put more lighting in there? Those are a few factors that probably work. I know everything costs, but in the grander scheme of things, it's probably quite minimal as opposed to just jumping right on and saying we're not going to do anything and wait until it's twinned.
I know there has been a fair bit of movement there, so I'd just be interested to see your thoughts if we can - where we're at with time frames, and maybe you can give one and maybe you can't, but I know people down my way certainly are anxious after the number of incidents that we've had. There are some quite detrimental, obviously.
MR. MACLELLAN: I thank the member for Hants West for those comments. I certainly anticipated him asking this question today because this is a conversation that we've had really since me taking over in the tenure and in the post as the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
This is an example - and again I say this, but I'm fortunate to have a department that's void of a lot of politics. I mean, this becomes about road safety; it becomes about what the priorities are for Nova Scotians. We look at areas of concern and many of the major highways - Highway No. 101 is certainly no exception to that. It was in the Throne Speech for a reason, as we've committed to all the MLAs and all the residents along that entire highway to do some work.
I just want to say on the record - and I hope that some of the member's constituents are watching today. He has done an incredible amount of work on this particular area in Falmouth. He has come to us with suggestions and he has talked to the department, so he has had a very good ongoing dialogue with the department staff. He does appreciate the amount of (a) money, and (b) planning and processing that goes into the twinning part of this exercise in that area. However, he has been very adamant that there are short-term measures that we can take. He has been the one who has been pushing that for the most part.
He mentioned my deputy, Paul LaFleche. Paul was there with Bruce - Bruce Fitzner is the chief engineer. They were in that stretch taking pictures. In fact, the gentlemen emailed the honourable member and me back to show that they were there and showed the pictures. I remarked that that was the cleanest hard hat and safety vest I've ever seen. There isn't a mark on it. I know these two gentlemen spent more time in the office than they did in the field. But I won't focus on jokes about Bruce at this point because he has been a great help to me, so I'll let him off the hook.
What we have for the honourable member is a plan over the next couple of weeks. We've looked at the Jersey barrier, and again there are - he mentioned that there are problems with the width in some areas. Obviously, there has to be a certain width for Jersey barriers to be safer and effective, but there are stretches of this specific corridor that could use Jersey barriers. There are other issues of signage and some of the other things that we can do.
The one thing I've learned that the engineers in the department have taught me is that there are three ways to go about these types of issues. There's education - as in, let the public know what's happening, and signage would be part of that. There is enforcement, so then for lack of a better term, you download the responsibly to the police. So all of a sudden, the police require further presence in an area. But then there is the engineering, and that becomes how you construct the road, how you use the tools that we have as a department to slow traffic down. When you slow traffic down, that enhances the safety.
What our team is doing for that area is putting together some options for what we can do in the short term, and I should say - I say short term - immediate term. We're going to put the costing together. Again, we don't put a cost on road safety, so I imagine those things can be absorbed and they will be absorbed. We can provide the House with an update when we have a detailed list of what the short-term components for that area would look like, but I can tell the member that we should be completely finalizing that short-term list with costing in the next couple of weeks, so hopefully before the real - it's going to get busy now in that area for traffic, but hopefully before it really picks up, we'll have some of those short-term measures in place.
MR. PORTER: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I don't know what she was trying to indicate to me there, but that's fine. I think she said no notes - I don't have any notes.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: No, actually I was just reminding the honourable member to refrain from the very casual conversation in the House.
MR. PORTER: Oh, through the Chair, no "yous" - oh, the no "yous".
MADAM CHAIRMAN: It's deteriorated over the last little while with a few of the members. I hate calling people on it, but I mean, it's very important for the Hansard to have a proper conversation in the House.
MR. PORTER: Thank you, and I appreciate the reminder. As I said yesterday, I apologize in advance because I am bad at that, so I do apologize. Through you, Madam Chairman, to the minister, thank you very much for that detailed answer. I certainly appreciate anything that can be done, as I know that the driving public through there, as well, do very much appreciate, and I will look forward to the updates.
You talked about three scenarios there that you use. I wonder if the minister or deputy or someone could forward that to me, because I'm going out with a householder shortly and I'd just like to update people that this is what we're doing and these are some of the things we use to determine what does get done, at least in the interim plan. That would be quite great actually, because people are asking, of course, and they'll continue to ask. Once they see something happening, they'll be excited that they are out there and we're making a little progress and working towards the longer term. That's all good, so I appreciate that.
Just a couple of other topics I want to get to. I always call it RAP, I believe that the minister and his staff call it black gravel - I did take the time to make one note - and Hal Lavers, who was my right-hand guy down there and does a great job, and formerly Larry when he was down there. Those guys treat us real well and they look after our issues down there at home.
We've put some of this down on roads that were, I guess, paved many, many years ago with what I'm going to call recycled asphalt, if that's the right term. We've put it over those because they've fallen apart and deteriorated and potholes, et cetera. I've said to Hal, put down every ounce of that you can put down. That is the greatest stuff. It goes down, they drive over it, it packs hard as concrete, it plows well in the wintertime and when it gets the odd pothole in it, you just grate it again and start over. We've got a lot of that stockpiled.
I know there are some different policies around how that's used, and it has to go on maybe in current-day policy. Maybe that has changed - I don't know and you can correct me, minister - but I think if I recall back in discussions with Hal and with Larry and others that policy might reflect it can't go down on gravel roads, it can only go down on those types of roads, and I don't know what class they are that I've described that were formerly paved at one time. There are quite a few of those roads in my area. I don't know what they're like around the province, but I do know in and around Hants West there are quite a number them in all different areas and this stuff works great.
But there are a few other roads - again, I really support the use of that and I hope we can continue to do a lot of that. The driving public are quite happy. When you put that down on that road, they are very pleased with the end result and we get calls to say so, which is a great thing, so I really hope we can continue to do that.
As far as the gravel roadside, I mean, we all still have some gravel roads, there is no question, and the high likelihood of them getting paved is probably slim to none in the years ahead based on budgets. Everybody understands that, but it's about keeping them in passable shape, if you will. Certain times of year like now - and we debated one last night that it's probably impossible to do anything with right now. I have a couple like that too.
But there are roads that are long-time gravel roads that are quite solid actually. They do pothole up, if you will, I guess, throughout the course of the winter like every other road does. I know that Hal and the group try to get out a couple of times a year to grade these roads, but still having a lot of them, we don't get to as many as often as we'd like.
I'm just kind of curious as to whether or not you ever see a time where you have roads that are - solid-built roads, good-shaped roads, but they are still gravel roads that the black gravel or whatever we're referring to it as these days - guess it's irrelevant what we call it - could be used.
MR. MACLELLAN: Madam Chairman, I'll thank you as well for the reminder to keep the remarks very formal. I'm doing my best here, but it doesn't come naturally to me, so I'll keep that in mind.
First of all, the black gravel has been a tremendous asset for us. It's used predominantly in a couple of situations - first and foremost, any time there is work being done in the area where that recycled asphalt can be found. Obviously there are some upgrades and projects in the vicinity of Hants West and the community. Hopefully there is proximity there where it can be accessed.
What the department and the local officials would normally apply to our roads that are in the range of - they're not quite chip seal, but they're busy enough, where they sustain heavy traffic. The member used one as an example of that, where the threshold for double chip seal for gravel roads is 500 - so 500 vehicles per day. A lot of gravel roads are far less than 100, so for those we try to do our best with maintenance by way of grading and gravelling and ditching and culverts and those types of things.
For the black gravel, we look at the range of maybe 300 vehicles per day, where it's not quite the chip seal, but you've got to sustain it. To your point, the infrastructure in the base of a road that's gravel doesn't stay strong if it continues to get pounding with no protection. Again, this winter the freeze/thaw has been a rough one. That's going to soften up the bases of these roads even more so than they are now, so that becomes a challenge.
A couple of the member's colleagues talked about this, and these are concerns coming from the staff - the fact that they're not grading gravel anymore; they're pretty much grading dirt. You're trying to flatten off potholes and stabilize the - well, there's no gravel there, so that becomes a part of the RIM budget and how we get excess gravel into those areas.
Again, for the black, ideally and ultimately for us, we use as much black gravel as we can, so your point is very well taken. We're going to use it and maximize that, because that's what preserves these roads.
Just in a response to the member for Queens-Shelburne, the metrics and the vehicles per day and some of these measurables that apply to roads change pretty frequently. That's why for the gravel roads, for the local roads, it's very tough to dictate and predict five years out which gravel roads would be done.
If the honourable member has roads that are subject to the black gravel and fit that criteria of that many vehicles per day - well, if there was increased traffic there and the counts were up, then we're starting to get into that chip seal and double chip seal range. That's the consideration. Again, we use as many of those assets as we can with respect to gravelling and black gravel to make sure the roads are preserved.
Back to the spectrum of roads, once you begin to lose the base of the road, then you're into pulverizing and starting over. That is by far the most expensive option for us. To get our value for money for the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, we want to keep those bases strong and just continue to do what we can on the surface.
MR. PORTER: Yes, we'll take all the black gravel. You want to truck some in, we'll take that too. We've got a lot of places to put it, and the fact that the people are happy with it is quite something. There is really little to no maintenance. It's easily redone. I see that as a long time, a great value going forward, knowing full well that some of these roads that were formally paved or whatever we call them - recycled-asphalt paved - are just not going to get done in the long term. This is a great solution and seems to really work well in our weather conditions throughout the winter, so I want to see more of that if we can.
I have just a couple of other things. We have a stretch of highway from - I guess it would be the beginning of Falmouth, heading down through Mount Denson. It would be Route 1 that is going to be paved - or a portion of it will be paved this year. I don't know how many kilometres total it is. Maybe it's 12 or so kilometres total, we'll say. Part of it gets paved, so the public come in and say, well, why are you only going to the Lighthouse Road? I'm going to assume that's because that's all the money there is to pave in Hants West this year. Okay, that's fine, you don't even need to go any further, and I get a "yes" out of that.
Moving forward, minister, I guess the plan would be that this year we're going to do the first half, if you will, and we'll just split it - or whatever percentage it might work out to be - and next year we'll do the other piece of it. Would that be fair to say? I'll maybe let you answer that before I move to my final piece.
MR. MACLELLAN: The member is correct. It's a significant project, and at this point in the current capital plan there are 5.5 kilometres slated. Again, these things are based on very specific metrics, the volume being an important one - the cluster of residents that are in that area, any small businesses. There are 5.5 now, and that is the start of that.
If the entire road was deemed to require repaving, then we'll just proceed with that. That's pretty common, where if there's a large road that has to be done, we do it in pieces, so it spreads it out. Again, it will protect some of the road infrastructure, but then we've got to get moving on the rest of it. You don't want to leave paving next to gravel for too many years, so if we're going to invest in the 5.5 kilometres, then obviously there's a commitment to keep going on that, so we can look to that.
MR. PORTER: Thank you, minister. My final question, because the guy from Cape Breton is pushing me along here - he wants his turn - is around Route 215, which would be from Brooklyn to Newport Corner. The balance of Route 215 has been done the other way, and Trunk 14 - I mean, compared to some other areas, our roads around Hants West are not as bad as others, but there's always roadwork that needs to be done.
The road through Route 215 that I'm referring to - and I don't know how many kilometres it is. I drove it the other morning on my way in, just to check it out, because we get a number of calls, and it has been bad for a while. It has probably been - I'm going to say 25 years, maybe closer to 30 since it has been paved, but it is a heavily-travelled road. I don't know what the counts on it are, but Hal or somebody might be able to provide that.
Again, knowing and appreciating the budget issues and concerns, that's a road that you could do patching on, but you'd patch the whole thing, in all honesty, is what it would end up being. That's how bad that road has actually become, and the winter, as with other roads, didn't do it any good either.
I was thinking about something I heard you say earlier with another member, back and forth, about municipal partnership funding. I don't think that's a municipal road out there. I think that's a provincial road - I'm actually quite certain it is. Most of the time, if I heard you correctly - and please do correct me if I'm wrong on this - the municipal units don't take you up on the offer of partnerships because they can't afford it, as a rule.
I don't know what those figures are, but I would ask this question. You've still got your half, if you will, and the partner still has their half, if they will, of that offer - can that still be put out in any of the members' local areas and be put down? I'll just use Route 215 as an example. Or do you just pull it back and move it elsewhere into something else, and then look at the end of the year or the season for construction, okay, we've got some money left, let's invest it here or let's do this or do that?
MR. MACLELLAN: I just want to get some clarification from the member before I move on. The previous question, with the first 5.5 kilometres, would the extension of that be Trunk 1 from the St. Croix River Bridge to the Windsor town line?
MR. PORTER: No. Sorry, minister, I should have been more clear. You mean that I'm just referring to with regard to Route 215 or back to the No. 1? Okay, the No. 1. Sorry, I moved off that only because you answered a question - we're going to do 5.5, come back next year for the Lighthouse Road or wherever it's being left off, and continue as you can into the next year or the year after or whatever. That's what I understood from that piece on the No. 1. I'm fine with that. That comes from the Falmouth town line, Windsor town line, by Pothier's and out through. I'm not sure if you know where that area is, but I'm sure Mr. Fitzner probably does, given that he has travelled the area. Did you want to comment on that further, before I move on? Okay.
MR. MACLELLAN: Madam Chairman, through you to the member, I'll say that I was just trying to clarify, and we can get back and do some of the further details. I thought there was an asphalt extension for next paving season, for 2018-19, that was Trunk 1 from the river bridge to the Windsor town line. I wasn't sure if that was the extension or not, so I just wanted, just for clarification, just for confirmation - but that's okay. We can talk about that at another point.
Now, on Route 215, what we normally do, which is standard for the J-class, is we've got this money budgeted, and some municipalities take up on our offer and some don't. To the member's direct question, we don't normally do that, where we just put the money into that area anyway. I mean, there are all kinds of different jurisdictional issues and which provincial roads apply to that, so that's part of it.
I'll tell you that - this is in response, the member was in his seat, so he may have caught this - but just about the J-class, I don't know if it's how we change that program. I mean, obviously this becomes dollars and cents, and the municipalities are increasingly strapped. They're doing what they can to balance their books, and those issues are very public, but there's got to be some kind of way we can tweak that system, where it's a take-it-or-leave-it type of thing. That has been the practice of TIR, to say here is your money for our portion of the J-class roads, can you match this, yes or no? And more often than not the answer is no.
So if we've got that money allocated to your point and it's budgeted, then maybe we can come up with some creative way. That is something that we've talked about with the department, and some way just to get - I mean, municipalities for their infrastructure in particular are really struggling, so if there is any mechanism that we can use to help out with that money, then certainly that's something, Madam Chairman, we'll continue to look at.
MR. PORTER: Yes, I do now understand where you were talking about, the town line to the river bridge. That's the other side of that, and I know what you're getting at now. Thank you for that.
I guess on the municipal potential partnerships, if the money has been allocated through your budgeting process, if there is some way down the road that we can look at that as an opportunity to still be used in all of our areas - as you talked about earlier, there is need everywhere. Maybe there is a plan that can come forward that does allow that to happen, because any of us that are in tune with our municipal units and understand the difficulties and the challenges that they are facing as well, and we have heard and seen that talked about much in this House in the last few weeks.
With those few questions, I'm going to pass it on to my colleague, the member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg. I think I got that right. (Interruption) I got it right. Thank you very much, Madam Chairman.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Sydney River-Mira- Louisbourg.
MR. ALFIE MACLEOD: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman, and through you, I want to welcome the minister and the opportunity to ask him and his staff a few questions.
I noticed in his opening remarks this morning that he made a statement about how the TIR staff are some of the best staff employed in the Province of Nova Scotia. I just want to be on record as saying that the individuals that I have the opportunity to deal with on a regular basis, who work out of Sydney River - the area manager, the OSs, and the district manager - are very good to work with. They don't always give you what you want, but they always give you an answer. I think it's important that people realize how hard it is for them, because they are also working with a very limited budget and they are trying their best in all the different areas. The minister would know, because he deals with the same crew when he's doing local issues, that they are indeed a very efficient group of people. I think it's important that we acknowledge that.
Minister, in some of your answers you were talking about different criteria for different roads and how roads will see chip sealing versus how roads see black gravel, as we talked about. I wonder if there has ever been any consideration of doing up a small program or manual for the different caucuses so that people could come and actually sit down for an hour and explain the different criteria, so that when we're going out and looking at things we have a better understanding and a better sense, and so that when we're dealing with the OSs and dealing with the different people we have a better understanding of where they're coming from and are able to explain it to our constituents better.
MR. MACLELLAN: Again, I want to echo the member's comments about the local staff in our shared region of Cape Breton. In particular, this member knows as well as anyone that some of the really significant challenges that we faced this winter really hit home in his riding, and obviously, being the neighbouring riding and being the minister, I heard about a lot of those things too. I know that the member knows this, but this is one of the reasons that we now have a complete equipment review and an area review to see what our standards look like, and if they are meeting the needs, and also if the dispersal and the sharing of the equipment is meeting exactly what it was intended to do.
I know the member has constant contact with Gerard and Roy and many of the staff in TIR. He certainly appreciates their work and they appreciate his. This reminds me of something I was going to say earlier to the member for Cape Breton Centre's comments, but the biggest - I guess not "regret," but the biggest downside with this department is the fact that sometimes the blame lands on the TIR staff when they're out in the field doing this work, and that's pretty unfair. I mean, obviously this is the responsibility of the politicians; it's the responsibility of the government.
As the member mentioned, their budgets are limited, and when they have certain equipment, certain allocations, they do their very best based on their experience and their knowledge to address the needs that are pressing. If there were more plows, if there was more gravel, if there were more of those things available, then obviously they would make use of those as well. It's an intricate system, and the staff on the ground for all of us representing Nova Scotians and keeping the roads clear and safe are doing a tremendous job.
To the member's initial question about information, we had talked about making presentations to all three caucuses - and in particular to the new members - about what the services that we provide are; what the standards are for plowing, for construction, and for new local road endeavours; and all of the details. There is a very specific, very detailed presentation that we have as a department. I truly thought that the Progressive Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party had that opportunity to see some of that stuff. We will set that up immediately with the respective caucuses, and Bruce can visit your caucus when it's convenient for the respective Parties, and he can share that information, so then you have it.
There are also some information sheets and things on the website, of course, but also that the member can physically have - and all members can have - so they can share with their constituents. I agree that sometimes, even when it's bad news, information sharing becomes the most important thing we can do. We're working to get better at that, and this is an example where we can share the information we know with our respective and colleague MLAs from the other Parties, so I appreciate that.
MR. MACLEOD: I just think it's a good idea to share information on a fairly regular basis. I know that the crew and the base in Sydney River, every Fall before plowing season, they get everybody together and explain everything again. Even though we may have heard it before, they refresh it, and it's always good to keep those things in mind.
It's interesting, the minister touched on a question I was going to ask him. He touched on the review of the equipment and those types of things, which I think is very important. I congratulate him for taking that on, because as he said, this was an exceptional winter in some areas, and in our area that we both have the honour of representing we got hit fairly hard.
I just wonder if you have any kind of timeline. I know it's only the Spring, and if you were outside last night you wouldn't even think it was Spring, but before you know it the winter season will be back upon us. It would be good to have a rough idea of when the review will be done and when you'll be looking at the allocation of equipment for the upcoming plowing season.
MR. MACLELLAN: The review is being undertaken by Barb Baillie, the director of Operations. The plan is to have it ready by mid-summer at the very latest so we can start to work on - again, back to the communication, but the information sharing. Winter comes on us pretty quickly - some years quicker than others - so we want to have any measures that we have, and any new plans and programs and our new structure, if that becomes the result of the review we want, in place by the next winter season, 2014-15. That's entirely the plan.
From my last conversations with Barb, things seem to be progressing nicely. She's getting input, feedback, and ideas spanning the entire province from TIR staff and other stakeholders. It has been a good exercise so far, and certainly when that information becomes available we will share with the public and with the members opposite. That could be another task that TIR can share with the three respective caucuses. Then we'll want that information readily available for the winter so people can know what to expect in terms of the equipment and the standards, et cetera. That's the plan, and we certainly hope to have that in place by the next winter season.
MR. MACLEOD: I thank the minister for that answer. I think it's an important step, and it's a step in the right direction.
I'm going to change gears a little bit, and we're going to talk about some local issues that you may not have heard too much about before. When you talked about the standards and how hard it is sometimes because the road can't fit into the double chip seal and it doesn't fit into this and that, one road that has been very prominent in my constituency as a challenge is the New Boston Road. I've had some of your predecessors drive that road; I know that Mr. Fitzner is very aware of it, because he was an area manager there at one point in time. He and I drove that road on several occasions, and even your deputy and I have driven it on occasion.
I'm just wondering if there's a way that you, minister, would be willing to take a ride out on that road over the summer, again, knowing the criteria and how it needs to be addressed. It's one of those roads where the people living on it feel they are underserviced, and we all have roads like that in our constituency. I just wonder if you have any thoughts on that one.
MR. MACLELLAN: Certainly. Mr. Chairman, to the member, I appreciate the opportunity to touch on that topic. Just to give him an idea - he mentioned the New Boston Road. I've heard from no one from New Boston in the last couple of weeks, although I've been contacted in the past - Little Lorraine, Broughton Road, and Brickyard Road, just in the last week. As the Spring thaw is taking hold now, you are seeing the damage of the potholes, and the tough shape the roads are in.
I will certainly 100 per cent commit to travelling the region with the member. He can pick the roads and we can do that assessment. Obviously Roy and Gerard are very familiar with that area as well - Roy MacDonald and Gerard Jessome. They'd certainly be willing to join.
I think what I've heard, particularly from some of these roads and from the member's constituency in general, they seem to appreciate and understand the fiscal constraints. They understand the low-volume aspect, which ultimately becomes our biggest criterion for improvements and paving and chip sealing and such.
I think what I've heard, and it has been very consistent with these roads in particular, again with that region, which has had a very difficult winter, is the fact that they just don't see - they're not getting an indication that there is a plan. So if there's a gravel road - the Broughton Road is a good example - if there's need for brush-cutting and there's need for ditching and some culverts, at least if they had that indication, the residents there and the people who use that road would almost feel better about it.
Any time we commit to these types of things and specific steps, we're usually pretty good to execute those. I think the idea - if we're going to tour those roads and talk to the stakeholders who represent those roads, then it becomes staying within the fiscal envelope and using the budget we have as best we can. What improvements can we identify for the short term, for the medium term, and the long term, and get some kind of a plan, so at least the residents and the commuters who use those roads have an idea that the finish line, or at least the starting gate, is somewhere in the imminent future? Now it seems to be that they wait on an email, then they wait on a call, and then all of a sudden, six months go by and the road deteriorates further.
I will commit to that with the member. We can do that, and then try to establish the best plan we can for some of these respective roads.
MR. MACLEOD: It's kind of spooky, because it's almost like the minister was over there reading my list. Of the roads he has talked about, like the Little Lorraine Road, it has been 40 years since it was originally paved, and there have been a lot of challenges since then, and the Broughton Road, as he mentioned. I'm very glad to hear that commitment on his part. I know he's sincere when he says that. Roy and Gerard have been good too, as well, to look at these things with me.
One road that has sort of been in a never-never land is the road leading into the Village of Donkin, from Dearn's Corner into the village. We haven't seen much work done on that because there has been a lot of talk about developing the Donkin Mine. The logical step was, well, we need to know if the mine is going to go forward, because that will dictate the type of road that we need to travel into that community.
That has been ongoing now for about 10 years, and there's still no mine, although if it was up to me it would be open tomorrow - but that's another issue. I'm just wondering if there's a way that maybe we can look at the challenges. Over this last winter it seems to have really broken up badly. There have been a few accidents - not uncommon, like many roads in many areas - but maybe we could add that to our trip and try to see if there is something that we can do in the short term, medium term, long term. Hopefully we'll get a decision on what's going to happen with Donkin Mine. That might make this conversation moot, and I'd be very happy about that. I'm wondering if the minister has any comments on that, because I know Donkin is very close to his homeland, and he takes the odd drive over there, I've been told.
MR. MACLELLAN: I appreciate this question from the honourable member. He knows that it's one that is very important to me. There are a number of projects happening in around the arteries to and fro with respect to the Donkin Highway. Also, we've spoken to Gerard about the Donkin Highway, and there is immediate patchwork planning for this upcoming summer. There is a chip seal project in that area that people aren't too happy with either, so there is going to be a revisit of that to see what kind of shape it's in and any measures we can take, particularly with windshields and flying asphalt, which is obviously a concern. There are some projects in the works and some things that we're doing in that area.
For the Donkin Highway itself, first of all, I can say that I've heard from many residents. I've heard from the Bordens and many of the Snows about that particular highway and the mess that it's in. I can tell you that, in fairness - and I think that this is one that the member can appreciate and attest - our hopes are resting on the Donkin Mine for a variety of reasons. This road is ideally the work will be done - if we're talking about dragging millions of tons of coal from the Donkin Mine to Sydney to the port and beyond, then obviously that road has got to be strengthened. Well, the day that that project is required will be a very proud day for the member, for myself, and for many people in Cape Breton.
For me as the minister, and being the MLA for Glace Bay and someone who is very interested in the Donkin Mine and has been since it first came on as a reality almost 10 years ago now, I think we are very attached to the idea that that road will be upgraded when the mine is open or at least in that stage. I am still very hopeful of that, as the member opposite and the Minister of Natural Resources were hoping, that in the immediate term there will be some kind of activity for Donkin, but that doesn't mean that we can sit and let the road continue to deteriorate. So for this year, at least, there are projects in and around the Donkin area, and there is going to be some significant patchwork for the Donkin Highway, because it is needed.
I want to throw this out there - and the member knows this entirely - but when Donkin first came back as a potential project, it was his government that committed to when the Donkin Mine was a go, TIR would immediately begin upgrades for that Donkin Highway. This isn't a criticism of the previous government, but I'm not sure - there was a little bit of information about how there could be an option for rail and there could be an option for barge, so I don't think they were ever actually asked to extend that agreement and that commitment. So it's certainly not a political comment, but I think that has lapsed. For us, as a department, we will pick up on that commitment. If it does become by way of highway, which I think it will, then we'll certainly commit to those upgrades and whatever is needed.
Again, the traffic is such now that the road is deteriorating based on the volume, so when we add all the heavy-duty 18-wheelers dragging coal out, when that great day comes, there are going to have to be some significant improvements and upgrades. We will certainly be there for that, and I know the member will be asking me repeatedly when that's going to happen. I can hardly wait for those questions in Question Period, but I can tell him that. I don't have to tell him this, because he knows this already, but we'll be committed to that project, and on the day the Donkin Mine opens, I will certainly share a big hug. I'm sure he'll agree, so there you go.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, he's quite correct, but it won't be the day the Donkin Mine opens. It will be the day they decide to develop it, because tons and tons of heavy equipment will have to be moved in to help with the development and the moving forward of that. He and I both realize - and any member from Cape Breton Island realizes - the impact it will have on the economy for eastern Nova Scotia. Hopefully it will even have an impact on all of Nova Scotia when it comes to electricity rates and the things that are associated with that.
So whether the coal is railed or goes out by ship eventually, or partly by truck, the development of the mine will require a good road to get the equipment and the gear in.
As a side note to that, just when you're thinking about that, with that kind of increased volume of traffic on that road, we're also going to need to be looking at a sidewalk of some sort or other, for the safety of the individuals who live on that road. As you know from travelling it over the years, it's a fairly narrow road at the best of times. There isn't a whole lot of room that would allow for expansion, and if we see that kind of volume of traffic go on it, with the trucks and the people working there, some kind of a safety consideration - which in my opinion would be a sidewalk - is something we have to look at.
I appreciate the minister's answer, and I'm glad to hear his commitment is there and solid, as far as that project moving ahead when it does move ahead. I think, though, that the biggest part of what you said today that is important, minister, is that there is going to be something done in the immediate future, because of the wear and tear it has suffered over the last 10 years. I know the people of Donkin will be quite happy with that, and I'll even give you the credit for it.
Mr. Chairman, just moving on, do you know how much time we have left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Until 12:44 p.m.
MR. MACLEOD: Until 12:44 p.m. The reason for that is just to make sure that I get the right questions in at the right time.
Some of the work that's being done through the five-year plan - I think the five-year plan is helpful. It goes back to what we talked about: communications. When people have an idea of what is happening and what is moving on, it makes it a little easier in those areas. Highway No. 327 has been a long time coming, and it is on the five-year plan now. As I understand it, there will be a section done this year, then we wait a year before there's another section - wait almost two construction seasons before the next part is done, and then the final part. So to see the completion of those 18 kilometres or 20 kilometres of road is going to take almost six years.
I'm just wondering if the minister would have a thought on that, or if there's a way that maybe they could review that - again, for the people travelling on that road, for the permanent residents, but not only that. It's part of the Fleur-de-lis Trail, and for people who are travelling for tourism reasons and coming into Cape Breton and going to the Fortress of Louisbourg and then along the shore to the Miners' Museum in Glace Bay and other areas, it's an important part of that. Part of our hope, and what we're moving forward with, is the advancement of our tourism industry, and the fact that this government has helped to bring back the ferry in Yarmouth, which is a Nova Scotia ferry, has been helpful. I know that 40 per cent of the bus traffic that is coming to some of the resorts in Cape Breton actually came across that Yarmouth ferry.
Tying it all together, it's great to get them here, but we want to make sure they have good roads to travel on while they're here so they will tell their friends about the good roads, not the bad roads. Everybody is going to tell people about the bad things, and it's very rare that we ever say much about the good things. I just wonder if the minister has any comments on that.
MR. MACLELLAN: The member is correct. There are two significant pieces of that highway, that roadway, being done over the next two construction seasons. Certainly this is a time, being quite frank and honest, that we do what we can. When we identify - when the staff and the department work through the capital plan, and obviously establishing the five-year commitments that we make, it becomes about selecting pieces in each year and doing significant portions of those. So the residents and people who use that area, and certainly the tourists - that reality is not lost on any of us in this House, that they have good roadways to travel on.
Having said that, again, it is very difficult. There are a few spots, if any, in the local roads program or in the highways program where we're doing significant portions of highway - 20 or 30 kilometres all at one time. We space them out, obviously, for cost reasons and development reasons, and try to share some of that annual $235 million around the province. So we're getting there with - I think it's in the range of six kilometres this year and again for next year. We're getting along that.
I can appreciate the member's point that it would be nice to do it all at once, but in fairness to move it around the province - and especially now, the fact that we've re-established the international link with the Yarmouth ferry - I think we'll be fortunate to see that there will be increased pressure on the highway. That's only good news if we have strange licence plates coming into this province, adding to the economy and adding to tourism and the social fabric that we have in Nova Scotia. Again, I appreciate where the member is coming from on that one. We're doing our best to get along that highway, and we'll keep moving those projects forward.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Through you to the minister, I want to say that I understand where he is coming from with that. There is no expectation to see the whole road done at once, but it would be nice to see three consecutive terms, three consecutive construction years. It's just that when you wait a little longer than that, the road deteriorates even more and it's harder to get back. To your point earlier in the discussion, Mr. Chairman, when the base falls apart badly it becomes that much more costly to repair.
I'm going to move on to a different subject, and I'm going to apologize to the minister right off the bat here in case I missed this, but I'm just wondering what the status of the sale of the asphalt plant is - which I think is the right thing to do. I don't think we should be in competition with the private sector, but I'm just wondering where we're at with that. Paving season is coming upon us, and I'm sure that this is probably the best time to sell a plant, just before the season starts. So I'm just wondering if you could give us some insight on that.
MR. MACLELLAN: This is a good opportunity to again explain in detail where we're at with the paving plant. The paving plant is for sale. We've signed a contract with Gencor, who are the manufacturers. They are a U.S.-based firm out of Florida, and they are handling the sale of the assets, both of the paving plant and of the chip-seal gear, which is a separate bidding process.
We're getting to the point now where there are another few months of the window for selling the paving plant, as the member said. However, he is very right, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. This is something that not only do we not want to hang around for a paving season not being used - the reality is that we're paying depreciation on it every month that we have it sitting at Miller Lake, so for us the idea is to sell it. We established a price, and Gencor established a price based on what they thought the market conditions would be. Obviously we want to finish somewhere in that range. There have been some bids, and Gencor is doing a bit of a presentation to the department to let us know where they stand. I haven't been privy to any of the information, so I don't know the specifics on what the numbers look like at this point.
Obviously for us it becomes the highest number, and therefore the best value for Nova Scotians. I can't say this for sure, because there is an established process that there are still a number of months left in that potential window for Gencor to do their thing, but from our perspective, the sooner the better. I think that if we get that plant out - ultimately, we have no way to control where it ends up either, but regardless of that reality, we want to get it out for the paving season. Anyone that's interested in it now will be certainly less interested a month from now, and even less interested two months from now, so now we're talking about next year's paving season and trying to sell it. You've got a year of depreciation; you've got a year of mothballs, which could create challenges on its own.
To the member's point, we're moving as quickly as we can. Obviously we're striving to get the optimal price, but our window is closing for that sale and we're trying to get it as soon as possible.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister for that answer. I want to shift gears a little bit again. The minister has been very involved and active in a file that's both as near and dear to my heart as his, and I know that there are some significant challenges there, but his government has taken on the role of the cleanup of the MV Miner, and there that is. I know that recently there were a number of contractors who came to Main-à-Dieu and had the opportunity to look at this situation. I understand that some of them have asked for an extension on the end of the contract because it's a complicated issue to deal with, and I know we have some very competent people in Nova Scotian lands who are helping with this process. But I just wonder if the minister can give us an idea.
Again, it's one of those situations where I think good communications will help the process along with the community, and the expectations of the community are that it's going to be cleaned up. From what I've seen, I think they're very happy about that. I also think that the original timelines that were talked about aren't realistic, and that's nobody's fault. That's just the way everything fell down the tubes to get something together like this.
I'm just wondering if the minister would mind giving us a little bit of an update on where we are with the MV Miner and the cleanup. I'm wondering if it's really still under your bailiwick, or has it been changed out?
MR. MACLELLAN: I appreciate this conversation, as we can be on the record as the two local representatives on this file and the importance that it holds for Cape Breton and for all of Nova Scotia, as Scatarie Island is a protected provincial wildlife area. The fact that we've got a derelict vessel rotting there is certainly a concern, and it's one that we are going to address.
Just a couple of things on the timeline - I can say this in earnest, that I think probably the responsibility for establishing that timeline has been mine. Originally, when I first took on the file back in late November, my understanding - and I asked questions of Gary Campbell from Nova Scotia Lands, and some of the others who were associated with Gary who understand this cleanup. They thought it would be very reasonable, and again, they didn't have any details whatsoever. Obviously we were still putting the tender together and what it would look like, so it was really my assumption, and it was me that jumped to the notion that we would have this gone before the fishing season. So I can take complete responsibility for that.
I can tell you that in my communications with the local stakeholders, with the Main-à-Dieu Community Association and with some of the local fishers, the member is right. They want this gone, and that's paramount. Also, when we finish this entire process and we understand what the successful bidder is going to look like and what their options are and what their plan is and their methods for removing this vessel, then we can allow them to give us the feedback on how we want to proceed.
In other words, if it's immediately, then that could impact the fisheries, particularly the licences that have traps in that area. If that's not the case - which I assume maybe it isn't - then we could possibly push the timeline later and allow the lobster season to take place. Again, that's one that we've committed to working with the local stakeholders and the fishers, and they can let us know how they want us to proceed.
As far as an update, the member is correct. Yesterday we extended the timeline for a week, mainly because there was a group of potential bidders that wanted additional information, and that additional information obviously leads to a little bit of an adjustment in their proposal and what it will look like. That was the reason for that extension. Obviously it was good news to see that 20 individuals representing different firms actually made the trip earlier in the month to see the MV Miner so they could get a real appreciation for what kinds of things were involved in the cleanup.
I think that probably - again, I'm making an assumption, but from what I understand from Gary and the group - this was an eye-opener. To see this thing in person, as a company and a firm that's going to take on this massive, very dangerous and very environmentally-threatening vessel and project, is a big thing. The fact that they've asked for an extra week is a good sign, and the fact that there were multiple entrants that asked for that extension was a good sign.
It also is a clear sign that this is going to be a very complicated cleanup, and we'll have our fingers crossed, of course. First and foremost is the occupational health and safety of those individuals who are going to undertake this endeavour, and then with the environment and the asbestos that's wrapping the pipe on the ship and all the other concerns with respect to Scatarie Island and the surrounding environment.
There are a lot of heavy details here and things that have to get worked out, and I think that over the course of time we're going to get those things ironed out. I'm certainly looking forward to the time when we do have a successful bidder. Certainly looking to the opportunity of what we will have to clean up this vessel once and for all and that work taking place.
With respect to what happens on the periphery of the cleanup itself, I still haven't had the opportunity to meet with Minister Raitt, although that's the case really, it's the details of the bid with respect to the environmental cleanup, the navigational hazards, and of course the ultimate price tag. That will be of interest to me when I meet with the minister. I will have that opportunity in the very near future once we have those details finalized.
The other thing I would say about the federal government - I think that Minister Raitt seems to be a pretty reasonable person - I've never met her. The way this went down is just wrong. It's not the current government's fault.
The fact that we have Canada shipping laws that govern these types of transfers, how a company can win a contract to tow a vessel across the Atlantic Ocean from inland in Canada, take this on a tow - and I don't know the details of how many towlines were used and what the actual problem was, other than, obviously, the towline snapped. They can do this with zero accountability. There is no penalty to them. We really have a hard time establishing who exactly they are, who the proponents are of these companies that were involved in the initial towing, and obviously they've done their best to shirk their responsibilities. If that's a function of the Canadian shipping laws, then I think that Minister Raitt will be receptive of changing those.
There is no secret. I agree with the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board that our specifics on the budget are very real and very honest. Whatever the final price tag is for the MV Miner, we can't afford it, as taxpayers. As a province, we are going to take on this commitment because it is a provincially-protected beach, and that's important, but we can't afford to. So for us it will be how we recover some of these costs from these companies that were initially involved with the tow in the first place, as well as what kind of role the federal government can play, given some of the environmental and navigational concerns that we expect will come from this tendering process and the final cleanup.
These are things that are on the radar screen for us. Again, as the Premier said in the beginning, we are following through on his statements that we'll clean this thing up and we'll worry about the bill later, but I want the member and Nova Scotians and members of this House to know that we've got to pursue those options. I really think it's unfair that as Nova Scotians we're saddled with this bill. We're going to do our best to recover at least some of it so that we can invest money in the programs and services that Nova Scotians want, not in cleaning up vessels that shouldn't be our problem in the first place.
Again, moving forward, we can never afford to do this again. That's why we have to have some kind of focus on the Canada shipping laws to make sure that when this happens next time, the firm tugging these vessels will be held accountable. That's the focus for us, Mr. Chairman.
MR. MACLEOD: I just want to say to the minister that I think the right decision is made as far as waiting and making sure that we get the right people to do the right job at the right time. I also agree that we need to talk to Minister Raitt about how ships are transported. I've had that discussion with her on a couple of occasions, and I'm going to continue.
I also think it's worthy to note that the minster was involved with this file long before he was a minister, and again, it's because it pertains to the area that we both have the honour of representing. He was there from the beginning, and I hope to see him at the end of this journey, because that ship's sailed now, so we want to get it to the point where it's done. I hope you're the minister who does that. With that, I think that my time is just about up, Mr. Chairman, so I will take my . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Twenty-three seconds.
MR. MACLEOD: Well, in 23 seconds, all I can say is that we need as much . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: He has no more money to pay . . .
MR. MACLEOD: Well, you know what, I'd be happy with one more kilometre - just one more kilometre. Anyway, I appreciate the minister's answers.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne.
HON. STERLING BELLIVEAU: I welcome the opportunity to get back. I just want to refresh Madam Chairman's timelines here. I'm going to share the last 10 minutes of my allotted time with my colleague, the member for Chester-St. Margaret's, so I'm going to leave it up to Madam Chairman to pay attention to that. I would appreciate that particular service.
I think I have about 15 or 20 minutes left, and I just want to refresh the minister's mind where I left off in the rotation of my questioning previously. Madam Chairman, through you to the minister, we were talking about traffic counts and the criteria around the establishment of paving gravel roads in rural Nova Scotia - or any gravel road, actually. To me, that is something that needs to be reviewed. Also, I think it needs to be challenged, those particular criteria. I think we are in a process that I really appreciate this opportunity, because I think this is the place where we need to challenge those criteria. How a traffic count - and I heard the minister say a traffic count of 300 vehicles determines whether a certain road may get that particular priority or attention. I can tell you that not only myself but the residents who live on those roads have a great issue with that.
I want to show the minister an example, before I turn it over to him to a question. To me these criteria have been established, or I feel, my observation, for a number of years through your department. Madam Chairman, through you, I think the department and the people who established that need to look at that.
This is what I want to point out in the next few minutes. The traffic count of a rural road needs to be updated. I'll give you a scenario: one of the suggestions the minister said that we need at least 300 cars before anyone is really interested in getting this set as a priority. Now, I'll point out East Sable Road. On East Sable Road we can have a series of 60 or 70 homes. We can have a commercial wharf at Jones Harbour there, that has 10 or 15 commercial vessels, and we can have health care workers who are in that community.
First of all, I want to talk about the health care workers, because we've seen this play out in Nova Scotia in the last several months. We've had some severe winter storms - I believe everyone agrees to that - and when the road conditions, Madam Chairman, when the minister gives out an emergency saying the police talks across Nova Scotia telling all the public to stay off the highways, the Nova Scotia Jeep Club kicks into gear. They kick into gear, and they have one priority. That one priority is making sure that health care workers anywhere in Nova Scotia have access to that association.
Now, if you have a health care workers on a gravel road, and it's in that count of, let's say, less than 300, it doesn't get registered. Remember what I said, it has to be up over 300. So I think there's a serious flaw, because those workers are important to society. They need to get to work. So there's one flaw with your count of traffic flow.
The second part of that, a gravel road - I'm using East Sable as an example because I know that scenario - there are two commercial wharves at the end of that particular gravel road. When you have one wharf, six commercial boats, you may have 10 or 15 at the other. Again, they all fall under the 300 vehicle count, but guess what, in order for those 20 or 30 commercial boats who man two or three individuals on a daily basis, they have to be serviced by a fuel truck and other supplies - a fuel truck. Then again, it all falls under 300 vehicles. So again, I point out another serious flaw: how important that road is to the economy of that neighbouring community.
You can see that this is a serious situation that we have allowed someone to come up with over time, probably 25 or 30 years ago, saying let's have a simple traffic count, and that will determine the importance of that road. I challenge you here today that that needs to be seriously looked at. I want to turn this back to the minister for some clarity on this, because I'm hoping he will say that it is time to review this policy.
This is why we're sent here, to come up with a clear path forward. To me, unless you are an MLA from rural Nova Scotia, you may not get how important these gravel roads are and how this needs to be addressed. My formula is, I really believe we should have a budget line in our budget on an annual basis. I know how difficult it is to get money to a certain project. Well, let's just say that each constituency across Nova Scotia has a minimum or a maximum of 15 or 20 kilometres per year. Now they're going to say to the member for Queens-Shelburne, that's not much, and I agree, but that is a path forward, and everybody can understand how you're - I'm going to identify in Queens-Shelburne 10 or 15 kilometres on a yearly basis. After a matter of four or five or 10 years, you can see an accumulation effect of how you are going to address the roads in your area.
I'm willing to challenge any MLA here, anyone in rural Nova Scotia, you go out and present that formula to any social event, any barbecue that you have this summer, on a gravel road. I'm willing to bet that the constituents of that community will agree with that formula, and they will also agree that the criteria need to be reviewed because these roads are important.
To me, this is something that I've learned, that we have old policies that are establishing policies that exist today. That's something that has to change, so I'm hoping that the minister will have the opportunity to address that as something that needs to be changed. Simply by having a budget line on a yearly basis, we can start addressing these gravel roads in Nova Scotia.
The other effect that I think is in this policy that has been established for a number of years - and I am assuming that it has been established for over 25 or 30 years - is that there has been development on these gravel roads. When you have a windshield observation of going through a community and saying, we've got a traffic count, now I'm going to go and do a visual inspection of how many homes are on that road - I'm going to turn this over to the minister for his observation. When you do the windshield observation, you can say, there are 50 homes on that particular gravel road - I've done this myself - and when you go out and you do a thorough check, you'll see that there's a gravel road, but if you go down off that offshoot of that particular lane, there may be four or five additional cottages or permanent homes on that particular branch of road, so your numbers can escalate very quickly.
What I find is that criteria have been established that are simply too difficult. It needs to be reviewed, and some of these important - like the fire trucks, emergency vehicles - I never got into that - those are crucial to these particular communities. There are health care workers there, there are commercial fishers, the list goes on, but that criteria I feel, minister, is flawed. I'd like for you to reflect on it, and hopefully you can hear some comments. Thank you very much.
MR. MACLELLAN: To the member I would say this, I think back to the previous government and my two predecessors, and at that time I never dreamed or thought that I would be here with TIR at this point. Even with that, just viewing them as individuals and as human beings, I have a ton of respect, and I think that respect certainly crossed Party lines and boundaries. The amount of respect that Moe Smith and Bill Estabrooks had in this House was very, very high. I watched them as individuals perform in Question Period and in estimates and in all facets of their position, which I now hold. I can tell you that they made it very clear that not only did they take the politics out of these things, and they allowed the department to determine what would be the priorities for TIR - which was rightly so - I think that they decided they weren't the experts in transportation and they allowed their experts to guide their policy and guide their decisions.
Why I say that is that was a message that became very clear to me. I appreciated that, and I hope that I mimic some of their style in the present day in my role here with TIR. The reason I say that is because - and the member who was in Cabinet with those two gentlemen can attest that there were standards largely based on road volume and traffic volume, but others were applied depending on the situation, and they were very specific to the road.
The five-year plan that was brought in by the previous government has established very specific criteria for low-volume paved roads and gravel roads. Just so the member is clear on this - and I think he is, because he would have been at the Cabinet Table when these things were established - the traffic volumes even on these roads, as the member is referring to with gravel, only half of the scoring system that determines what will be done with these roads, whether it be upgrade, chip seal, double chip seal, what have you, is based on volumes.
The other bullets, just for the member's information, are roadside development, including the number of homes, businesses, and community sites. The examples are churches, community halls, rec centres, parks, et cetera, that are located on the road. The second bullet is requests for road repairs from residents, businesses, or not-for-profit groups, and of course the community. The final bullet is groups, chambers of commerce, and elected officials.
I didn't want to imply - don't get me wrong, the volume on the road is very important to what the future process and plan is for that road. However, there are other components, and I think that's where the individuals on the ground at TIR, who live and breathe this stuff every day, make these decisions and make these recommendations. I know that the area managers and the OS and all those people who are involved provide this feedback and provide this information to the department. With 9,000 kilometres of gravel roads in this province - and again, the member knows this very well - there isn't the budget to address these, and to do it in this way using these metrics, I think, is very fair.
Again, in the thought process of the former Minister Estrabrooks and former Minister Moe Smith, I think that for me I will follow these criteria. I will always lean on our staff to determine and tell us what these projects should look like, and I think that is the fairest way of doing it.
Now having said that, if you're looking at these criteria, which were established by the previous government, if there is room to change those and enhance those, then certainly we would be willing to have that conversation. But as it sits present day, those individual bullets seem to be the fairest way to decide and deliver on what projects we're doing for gravel roads here in Nova Scotia of our entire 9,000-kilometre inventory.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: At this time we will take a short recess. We'll resume again in about five minutes.
[12:57 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[1:01 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I call the committee back to order.
The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne has the floor.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I'm going to try to keep my question very brief and short here, but before we leave the last topic regarding double chip seal and that criteria, I think that if there was a budget line for gravel roads, chip seal could do a lot more. People could actually appreciate how you're going to advance over the next five or 10 years, and know that their roads are going to be a priority and some of that work is going to get done.
I'm going to leave that and move on. With respect for time that we have here, I'm going to identify a number of roads - in particular in the Queens-Shelburne area - and I'm going to ask the minister to give us an update. There are a number of roads that have been identified for upgrades or paving, and I'm going to mention a few of them: West Berlin, East Berlin near Liverpool for paving; paving of the Shore Road near Gunning Cove - a section of that was scheduled to be done; Jordan Bay; Jordan Ferry, near the Town of Shelburne; near West River near the Milton Bridge in Liverpool - a section of that to be paved; and one not to be left out would be the Labelle road system near Greenfield - scheduled for paving and upgrading of the gravel roads in that particular area, especially possibly a candidate for some chip seal.
Because of the time constraints, I'm going to ask the minister if he could give us an update on those particular roads and what the residents can expect in this upcoming paving season.
MR. MACLELLAN: I certainly apologize. I don't have the specific details. Obviously these things can be extremely fluid, so to have that specific information on those roads is impossible at this point. However, it would be a very easy find for the department, so if the member opposite is okay with it, we can get him an update on each and every one of those roads by this afternoon, if that works for him. Again, my apologies, but I just don't have that kind of specific information in front of me. Thanks.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I thank the minister for that response. I'm trying to appreciate the time constraints here, so I appreciate the answer. At this time I'm going to turn it over to my colleague, the member for Chester-St. Margaret's.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Chester-St. Margaret's.
HON. DENISE PETERSON-RAFUSE: I want to reiterate what my colleague here said to the minister, what my experience was. I was fortunate enough to get an enormous amount of paving work done during my term in government, and worked very hard toward that, but what I learned and what I saw was the problem with the system that we have today - as my colleague pointed out - is that those gravel roads or those in poor condition, like formerly sand-sealed roads, or really old - 50 years or more - paved roads, the way the system is they'll never qualify to get paved. That's what the struggle is, and that's why we created the five-year plan. But there were still so many roads that we had to look at that were in poor condition that it was still those high-level traffic roads like the No. 3 highways that would meet the criteria to be up on the priority list.
I really want to encourage the minister to look at creating a strategy around those other roads. As he knows himself, being from a more rural area, there are some roads that have not been touched in many, many years. One in particular in my area - I have many, but one in particular that needs to be addressed and will never get on that priority list, and I mentioned it to the minister before - is the West Dover Road. This is a road in a small fishing community, and the road is in horrific condition, with huge potholes. You can patch them up, cold patch, and the next day it's gone. It's the main road to the federal wharf for the fishers, so it gets really beaten down.
I know how busy the minister is, but I wonder if there is an opportunity for us to do a road trip. Perhaps he could see it for himself, or I've had pictures before - whatever works more conveniently in his schedule. I don't expect him to do road shows around the entire province, but if his staff may be able to set up a little meeting between him and myself, we could talk about some of these particular issues.
On those roads that are in desperate shape, I have in the Chester area one called Pig Loop Road, and Golf Course Road, which we actually prepared with some racking on it for future paving, but now it looks like it's not going to meet those criteria. I'd really like to have that conversation one on one.
MR. MACLELLAN: To the member opposite, I appreciate her concerns. Again, we're all concerned about Nova Scotia as a whole, and that's what we do as legislators, but we also have specific concerns to our riding, and I appreciate her bringing that to my attention. We had a brief conversation here in the House in the lobby about the West Dover Road. I just confirmed that we can put together a group to go down and have that road reassessed, and again, if there are others on the honourable member's list that she wants to have the staff take a look at - and by all means, the schedule fills up pretty quickly for road shows, as she referred to them. I'm sure that she did a lot from her days in Cabinet, but I will endeavour to do that, for sure.
I have no issues whatsoever with any member bringing these things to my attention; when we're down in that area doing trips, then by all means. Without question, it's one thing to have a description of a road and hear how bad it is, but for me as a human being it's much easier when I actually see it and can truly appreciate what the area is, what the outlying concerns are, and of course how the residents are impacted by the deteriorating shape of these roads.
So certainly we can do that, but in the meantime, with those specific roads, I'd like to make sure that I can tell the minister without question that we'll have TIR take a look and get an assessment and see. Again, back to the criteria that we apply, volume is an important one, but it does make up 50 per cent of the formula that has been in place for quite some time - actually, since the development of the highway plan by the previous government. So we'll apply those, but there are human factors and considerations and community considerations that can always add to our waiting. We'll see what we can do to improve those roads and therefore improve the safety and the commute for the people that she represents and that we all represent.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Through you, Madam Chairman, I'd like to thank the minister very much and I would encourage - I know it's early days for him, but I think it would be quite an advantage for him as a minister if he is able to develop a strategy that focuses on the gravel and those types of roads. I think that he would gain great support throughout the province for that type of initiative.
My other little quick question is completely different. It's with respect to signage in the Chester Municipality area. The municipal council has taken it upon themselves - and they're very motivated to make some changes with the signage issues we deal with in the constituency, especially in the Chester area. When you come off the exits - for example, Exits 6 and 7 - there's a horrible array of signs from businesses, and it is not very pretty. We have that in other parts of the province.
This municipal council wants to try to clean that up. It has taken quite a long time to have conversations with businesses, because they're fearful that they will lose their sign, and they feel it's the brightest, biggest sign that will get attention. They'd like to do something similar to Prince Edward Island, where they have more of a uniform signage program that is run through the municipality.
The problem is that with the way the rules are set out, the department, through the minister, has given them permission to take those signs down at the exit, but the rules do not allow them to put signs up. What they want to do is be able to put signs up that would be uniform to the municipality. I'm sure they would go through the process with TIR to make sure that TIR approves the uniformity and the signs' look.
The hitch that they've hit is some type of regulation that says you can take it down, but you can't put it up. Is there any way the minister would be able to help me out on that issue?
MR. MACLELLAN: To the member, I believe there is, actually. My understanding from the department is that if municipal units want changes of that type, they just have to make a submission to us. I think that probably the best thing to do is maybe we can arrange a conversation with the municipal counterparts who you were talking with.
I tell you, this is an issue, and you're in your community in the municipality, so you're talking about the local signs. This has been a pretty contentious issue. There has been a signage policy in place for 10 years now, technically, so of course it spans all three different Parties as government. It's one where you see the signs that are clustered and they're a mess, and some for businesses that haven't existed for 10 years. They are the problem ones.
The issue you run into with small businesses is, from their marketing perspective, they believe - and maybe they're right - that this is the key way that they identify with their potential customers and patrons. For us, from TIR's perspective, we're basically just the logistics managers, as in when we're directed to act on signage, like the policy exists for the 100-Series Highways, if there are certain signs that are not in designated areas and they haven't been grandfathered, we're completely permitted to remove those.
Now that sounds easy in practice and on paper, in terms of the legislation, but when you're threatening the identity and possibly the business for entrepreneurs, then that becomes - it's not as easy to swallow as it seems.
But that's for the 100-Series Highways. In terms of your question with respect to your municipality, we can have a conversation with them. I think that if they can work with us and identify some of the entrepreneurs who want to stay and some of the entrepreneurs who would buy into this common signage, then I'm sure we can accommodate. There are lots of things, as a government, that we can't do, but this example, honourable member, I think we can find some kind of common ground and help you out there.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Thank you. I really appreciate it. I did get a letter that says they can't replace them, but I know that that letter, although signed by you, would have been just - because it is the standard rule that is available.
I'm just wondering, from the minister, who do I go to next, as the MLA? They have done the work with the businesses and have an agreement from businesses to go forward. So if I could just get a contact person to proceed who would have an understanding of this and work between myself and the municipal council and TIR, I'd really appreciate it. Thank you.
MR. MACLELLAN: Madam Chairman, to the member, I'll suggest that maybe she have a conversation with Steve, the area manager, to get this started. If this is something that we can work through Steve and the member and solve it that way, that's fine. However, if this has to come to the department level, and it becomes me being involved with the municipal representative, then that's okay too.
We'll start off with Steve. We'll get some preliminary information to the member and to the group that she represents, and then we'll take it from there. Again, we'll work to see what we can do. If they have an agreement, as she suggests, with the private sector there, then that obviously makes it much easier just to start. I think that's something we can work on, but I suggest she talk to the district director, and we can move from that point.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: I want to thank the minister very much. Steve is a terrific employee. I give him a lot of kudos for how he communicates and works with the community and myself as an MLA. I want to thank you and your staff. I know that it is a very difficult portfolio; it is not easy. You're doing an excellent job and you've got incredible staff, and I want to congratulate the minister for the work that he is doing. I look forward to working with him to try to resolve these issues that are before us with our roads, especially in rural Nova Scotia, which I know he understands. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would like to give the minister the opportunity to make some closing remarks.
MR. MACLELLAN: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I want to thank the honourable members opposite for their questions, their suggestions, and their ideas on how we make TIR more efficient. It has certainly been an incredible learning experience for me, learning about how we clear the roads in the winter and how we build them in the summer. It has been a tremendous learning curve, and we're getting there.
I do appreciate the support from my honourable colleagues from all sides of the House in that endeavour. They know that there's not a whole lot of politics when it comes to keeping Nova Scotians safe, so we'll focus on that.
I just want to again thank Bruce and Diane for being here this morning, as well as my deputy minister, Paul LaFleche, who has done tremendous work. I want to thank my EA and childhood friend, Tom, who most of you guys are familiar with. He has done tremendous work for me as an EA, and I'm proud of our relationship and I'm glad of the help he has provided to MLAs, so we appreciate Tom. (Applause)
Also Sue and the entire communications staff have been tremendous. We talked a lot about communications here this morning and getting the word out about the conditions in the winter and the conditions for our roads, and safety has been an important role. Sue has done tremendously, so we thank Sue and the entire communications group for doing that. With that, I will move to the resolutions.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E38 stand?
Resolution E38 stands.
Resolution E48 - Resolved, that the business plan of Sydney Steel Corporation be approved.
Resolution E49 - Resolved, that the business plan of Nova Scotia Lands Inc. be approved.
Resolution E50 - Resolved, that the business plan of Harbourside Commercial Park Inc. be approved.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall the resolutions carry?
The resolutions are carried.
We will be taking a short recess - or maybe a little more than a short recess - until 1:30 p.m. We will resume at that point.
[1:18 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[1:30 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I call the Committee of the Whole on Supply back to order.
The time allotted for consideration of Supply has elapsed. That also concludes the 40 hours of estimates.
The honourable member for Fairview-Clayton Park.
MS. PATRICIA ARAB: Madam Chairman, as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Supply, I am pleased to report that the Subcommittee on Supply has met for the time allotted to it and considered the various estimates assigned to it.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall the remaining resolutions carry?
The resolutions are carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Madam Chairman, I move that the Committee of the Whole on Supply do now rise and recommend the estimates to the favourable consideration of the House.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report these estimates to the House.
[The committee adjourned at 1:30 p.m.]