HALIFAX, FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2005
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. James DeWolfe
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: On Tuesday this week I made a motion to amend the estimates for the Department of Community Services. The purpose of this motion was to draw attention to the deficits in the administration of the Department of Community Services by the minister. I believe that that point was made and as a result, I'm going to ask that the motion be rescinded and I would ask for the concurrence of the House in this regard.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
The motion is carried.
We will continue with the estimates of the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. CHARLES PARKER: Back to round two, I guess, of our Transportation and Public Works estimates. I want to welcome the minister and his staff here again this morning. I'm going to pick up where we left off yesterday on some transportation issues. I think one of the last questions I had asked the minister yesterday was around gasoline tax amounts, in relation to the amount that is spent on our roads and bridges. I think, Mr. Minister, you told me yesterday that there's approximately $256 million collected in gasoline tax in this province. I thought you had indicated that somewhere over $300 million was spent on roads and bridges. I'm having a little bit of trouble relating that to your budget.
In your budget, the total for the Department of Transportation and Public Works is $263 million, of which a good portion is for Public Works, Sydney Steel, Boat Harbour, government offices, and other buildings, so it certainly is not all for roads and bridges. I would like to refer, if I could, Mr. Minister, to the estimates for 2005-06 and on Page 17.2 it outlines the amount that is proposed to be spent for Highway Operations, as well as other parts of your budget. Under Highway Operations it mentions Highways and Bridges, Snow and Ice Control, Field Operations and so on. That amount adds up to approximately $200 million, maybe $205 million, I think it is. I wonder where the rest of the money above that $200 million is being spent on roads and bridges that you indicated yesterday - I think it was $307 million. Could you give us an explanation on that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: The honourable member makes a very good point because we went into the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles back in 2000, which meant that capital expenditures were not displayed in a consolidated form in our total budget. The number that is in the Estimates Book reflects what is spent on operations, except for the amount for capital expenditures. To give you the exact numbers, first of all the revenue from provincial fuel taxes, as I said yesterday, was $256.895 million. The operating account for the department amounts to $164.5 million, that is money with the exception of the capital. On top of that there is a budget for capital, for highways, bridges and equipment for the Department of Transportation, not for Public Works, of $142.827 million, which adds up to $307.327 million which will be spent exclusively on highways and bridges. I can give the honourable member a copy of that sheet if he would like.
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for that explanation. Where in the Estimates Book is the capital outline? Is it shown somewhere in our government's budget? I haven't seen it, is it under a separate department or how is it shown as a capital expenditure? As I mentioned it's not in the budget for the Department of Transportation.
MR. RUSSELL: To save myself the embarrassment of trying to leaf through to find it, it's in the Estimates Book under Tangible Capital Assets, and you'll find it listed there including the amount for the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
MR. PARKER: I will have a look for that after but that explains then why I couldn't find it in the Department of Transportation's budget.
MR. RUSSELL: As an addendum to that, I will get the honourable member the page number in the book but I don't have it right at my fingertips.
MR. PARKER: Thank you. Yesterday we were talking about the need for more dollars in our infrastructure and I think we both agree, there's not enough in the budget, it's certainly not meeting the needs of the 10-year study that were identified four years back. As I mentioned, many people in rural Nova Scotia feel our roads are crumbling, there's a real need to add more investment to it, so more dollars in our provincial budget are needed to meet the need that's out there, there's no question about it.
One other source that we've often talked about is the need to get more dollars from the federal government. I think you indicated yesterday there was $140-odd million that goes out of this province in gasoline tax, yet there's only a very small amount that comes back, $4 million or $5 million perhaps, on a yearly basis, so a very small percentage, 3, 4 or 5 per cent, of what is actually taken out.
It seems to me we should be getting our fair share, we're losing that. What a difference that would make if we had that $140 million to put on our operating budget for this province. My question to the minister is, why aren't we getting that money from the feds that is due to Nova Scotians? Obviously, we're not, so what more aggressive stance do we need? How can we capture our fair share from the federal government that we should be getting? What is your department doing to try to get that money out of the federal government? It seems like over and over we're saying we're only getting 3 per cent, or 4 per cent or 5 per cent. Why can't we get more? Why can't we be more aggressive in going after our fair share of the federal gas tax?
MR. RUSSELL: There is no doubt that what the honourable member said is perfectly true. In order to make any dramatic difference in the amount of paving, the amount of work that we do on the highway infrastructure of this province is dependent on getting more money. Certainly, the federal government has not stepped up to the plate to do that, at least it hasn't at present.
To give you some indication, in 1999 the federal government took out from this province in gasoline taxes about $130 million and returned to this province, as part of an infrastructure program, about $9 million. In 2000, they took out $133 million but only returned $2.611 million that year. The following year they took out $132 million and returned $3.385 million to the province, and so on right across the piece. Mr. Chairman, I would suggest it is a poor record of federal interest in the infrastructure, particularly highways in all the provinces.
When the Trans-Canada Highway was built, it was built on the basis that the federal government would cost share on those important highways, such as the Trans-Canada Highway. I believe the initial rate was 60/40? (Interruption) Mr. Delaney says that he's not absolutely sure about that and I'm not either, but it was certainly more than 50 per cent.
After awhile that dropped down to 50/50 cost sharing and the federal government also revised what was the original Trans-Canada system in Canada to what they called the National Highway System. When they moved from the Trans-Canada to the National Highway System, some of the roads that before were funded 50 per cent were now dropped off the list. So we had roads such as Highway No. 103, for instance, we had Highway No. 105 and other roads around the province which heretofore had been part of the Trans-Canada system, but were no longer covered by the federal government for 50 per cent sharing and in consequence, those roads then became the entire responsibility of the province to maintain.
At the present time there are ongoing discussions with the federal government, with a request from the provinces - all provinces - to enlarge the National Highway System to include more roads, such as Highway No. 105 and Highway No. 103. It's very likely that we will get those roads on the National Highway System. However, the problem is the federal government says, yes, we'll accept those roads as part of the National Highway System but we don't say that we're going to give you any more money. In other words, you'll still get the same block of money but you'll have a greater number of highways that you can share it over, which really doesn't solve any problems at all.
You asked what we're doing, we're pursuing this matter as hard as we can to get the federal government's attention. It's a predicament that all provinces have but we, in the Atlantic Provinces, and out West in particular, have a problem because the provincial governments, as I outlined yesterday, in those provinces are primarily responsible for the majority of roads. In fact, I can tell the honourable member that my deputy minister, Mr. Stonehouse, is in Ottawa this morning and hopes to have a meeting sometime today with the federal Minister of Transport to discuss those matters regarding federal funding for a new agreement for our roads that fall under the National Highway System.
MR. PARKER: I wish the deputy lots of success and luck in getting more federal dollars for Nova Scotia. No question, we're not getting our fair share and that has been true for years. It seems like we need somehow a more aggressive policy, whether it's from the minister's office, or an all-Party initiative from the Legislature or something. We are losing out on 95 per cent of our gas tax revenue that should be coming back to this province. It goes into the deep, dark hole of Ottawa and we never see it again and who knows where it ends up. I just think we need some other method, some other means to aggressively push for more of our fair share of gas tax rebate coming back to Nova Scotia. Certainly, the need is out there, we can travel around Nova Scotia anywhere and see the need for road improvements. I know most of that federal money goes to our 100-Series Highways and there is need certainly there as well.
I often compare us to the Province of New Brunswick. They seem to have more success in getting dollars for their 100-Series Highways than Nova Scotia has. If you travel through the province, on the northern portion in particular, I've travelled up through Fredericton and on through to Edmunston and there is lots of construction going on. Why is
it that one province in the Maritimes has much more success in getting federal dollars as compared to us? Do they have something on the pipeline into the feds better than we do or is it a more aggressive approach somehow or another? It might be nice to know what they're using that is working successfully for them. But dollar for dollar, they're outstripping us considerably, they're getting a lot more federal funding than we are. Maybe I'll ask the minister for a little comment on that. Why is our sister Province of New Brunswick getting much more federal help than we are for the 100-Series Highways?
MR. RUSSELL: I think what the honourable member is saying is very, very evident, that some provinces are indeed doing a lot better than, for instance, our own Province of Nova Scotia in getting funding from the federal government through specific agreements. In particular, I would point out that New Brunswick has done very well, as has the Province of Quebec and the Province of British Columbia. That raises the thought of fairness, again, in the way the federal government treats various provinces.
I've told this story often, and I'm sure the honourable member is aware of my thoughts on, for instance, our neighbouring province, New Brunswick. I've always said that back in the 1980s, when you were driving to Ontario or somewhere, and you went across the border from Nova Scotia into New Brunswick, you could have your eyes shut and you would know when you had arrived in New Brunswick, because the roads were so awful. Then, coming back, again you could tell when you had arrived in Nova Scotia because of the fact that our road system was so much better than New Brunswick's. Today it's just the opposite, and that is very unfortunate.
The reason that is so today is because New Brunswick has had the advantage of several extremely large programs with the federal government. The last one was for $400 million, to do the section from Fredericton to Riviere du Loup. In Nova Scotia when we talk about a program with the federal government, we're talking maybe $20 million, $30 million. Here, in one fell swoop there's a $400 million agreement in the Province of New Brunswick. In Quebec - I hate to beat a horse to death - there was a ring road, which in the last federal election suddenly popped up from nowhere, and the feds agreed to cost share on building a ring road around Montreal. Unfortunately, those things don't pop out of the woodwork in this province.
Mr. Chairman, there is something wrong with the present way the federal government treats provinces. It's certainly not equitable, although they will say, well, when people in Nova Scotia travel to the West, they have to go through New Brunswick to get to what they consider to be the heartland of Canada in the Province of Ontario. So we're actually helping the Province of Nova Scotia by building roads in New Brunswick. I think that's kind of a lopsided argument; however, it's certainly one they're sticking by.
All I can say is that my fellow - not all males, but - ministers across the country at recent meetings of Ministers of Transportation have all been in agreement that the federal program is wrong, that what the provinces need is a percentage. We don't care too much how big the percentage is, but there should be a percentage of the federal tax which comes back to the provinces from Ottawa for the maintenance, not only of the 100-Series Highways but maintenance of the highway infrastructure. All provinces have agreed to that approach. Unfortunately the federal government hasn't.
What we need is that kind of security so that we know years in advance how much money we're going to get, and then we can do what this honourable member, I know, wants to do. In fact he brought it up, I believe, last year. Why can't we put out a program showing what we're going to do for the next five years, road by road? Well, unfortunately we can't do that, because we have no - or at least a very limited - indication of what funding will be available year after year.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I'm glad the minister brought up the issue of fairness and equal allocation across this country. I want to relate that to Nova Scotia and come back to our secondary roads, certainly the issue that's mainly of importance to Nova Scotians, because they are the roads people live on, they are the roads that people drive on every day. There are many secondary roads throughout this province that are in terrible shape. Many are broken and cracked and heaved and potholed, severely damaged. They're asking us as MLAs, we need our road fixed, we need it repaved or we need it repaired at the very least.
I want to ask about your department's policy on fairness and allocation of provincial dollars for our secondary roads. I hear about it in my constituency. We've talked in the past about Highway No. 256, through Scotsburn and West Branch, I could go on to other roads, like the River John Road and the Old Post Road and White Hill Road and so on. There are many roads out there in my riding that are in very poor shape. I'm sure the member for Cape Breton West could talk about the Marion Bridge Road. It was on CBC News this morning. We heard about the public meeting that was there, over 100 people attended, very angry, very upset about their road.
I had a similar meeting in my community back in February. Over 100 people attended in West Branch, very upset and angry about the condition of the secondary road. So people get together, they band together, they have public meetings and they write letters to the minister, they write letters to the area manager. They call their MLA and they call the local Department of Transportation and Public Works office. They'll do a petition in the community, and we'll present them here in the House or to municipal council. They'll call whoever. I'm sure, Mr. Minister, you get calls from constituents in your own riding, and you get calls from around the province. People are very concerned about the roads they drive on every day. They're just not in good shape, many of them.
Quite often a letter comes back from the department, either from the area manager or from yourself that says something like this, your road is on the priority list for repaving, or it will soon be on the priority list, but that seems to be as far as it goes, it's on the priority list. I expect that at one time or another almost every road in Nova Scotia must be on this priority list, because there are hundreds of roads that have been asked about over time. They always end up on the priority list, a priority for repaving.
I wonder if you could tell us, Mr. Minister, in relation to fairness, how are roads allocated in this province, on a priority basis? What does it mean when it says that your road is now on the priority list for repaving? This particular letter I have here in front of me is from a lady in River John, and she's asking about the West Branch Road, which runs between River John and West Branch. It's in very poor shape, that particular road. It has a good crop of grass and hay between the cracks, that could be harvested, by mid-Summer. It's broken up, it's really poor. I'm only giving that as an example. How does your department determine what roads are on the priority list, and what does it mean once they're on that so-called list?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I share the pain of the honourable member. Every member in this House can tell me about roads in their particular riding, including myself. As minister, it's very embarrassing when they say, well, you're the minister, you can do it, and maybe I can. However, we do have to do the right thing, and the right thing is to equitably distribute the money that we have to meet the needs that come to the attention of the department.
I would just like to tell the honourable member, or to bring to his attention, perhaps, that in my office, as minister, alone, I get about $30 million worth of requests a day for roads, when you add them up. That's a lot of money, and at that rate, if we spent our whole budget taking care of those requests, it would last for exactly four days. So there's a huge need out there for roads. We have to try to do our very best.
First of all we look at the districts, and the districts have priorities, and those priorities then come into the department and we do our best to equitably meet those priorities of the districts. It depends on how much money we have, of course, to divvy out under the capital program. We have a number of ways that we prioritize, and hopefully it's fair. It may not always be considered to be fair because if you say to somebody, well, we're not doing your road, we're doing this other road over here, they're going to say, but the people on that road over there, they don't need their road as badly as we need our road repaired. We have to have something that's a little more substantive in the way of allocating the money for repaving.
One of the things we do is the ARAN vehicle, I don't know if the honourable member is familiar with it. It's the Automatic Road Analyzer. It's a truck that runs along the road and measures smoothness and rutting, et cetera. What I was going to say is it measures the road
and establishes a numerical number for that road. It's a very high-tech machine. I believe we bought it used from Alberta? (Interruptions) No, we have a new one now, I'm told. This little van - and that's all it really is, a small van - cost $600,000, but it's full of equipment that to a person of my vintage would be considered very high-tech. As I say, it travels the roads of Nova Scotia doing an analysis of the road surface.
We have that information. We have the information regarding traffic counts. In other words, you know how we do traffic counts, simply by setting up a device beside the road which measures the amount of traffic on the road. Also, we measure the economic value of that road, does it service houses or does it service industries. We look at the weights that the road is accommodating in the way of trucking traffic. That's about it.
However, we get that information so that when we do make the allocation, I can assure the honourable member we attempt to do it as fairly as we possibly can. People in my caucus say, well, you're paving, perhaps, too many roads in the Opposition ridings. The Opposition ridings tell me we're paving too many roads on the government side. Believe me, we listen to what members have to tell us, we listen to people who write to us, putting in petitions, et cetera, and we try to make a fair and balanced decision. We cannot possibly please everybody. We really can't. Sorry about that.
MR. PARKER: Well, I was aware that your analyzer machine was out in my particular riding this Spring, and I suppose it was all over the province looking at different roads, but it did appear in Pictou West in March. So when people saw the machine, it was wow, it looks like maybe we're going to get our road fixed or repaved. It created a little bit of excitement when it travelled around. Did you want to answer something else, Mr. Minister?
MR. RUSSELL: I wasn't going to respond, I was just going to add to the honourable member's observation that the machine was out there. That would be the reason that the West Branch Road - Highway No. 256, I think it is - is a high priority. I don't want to make promises today in the House, that's for sure, but those roads are definitely in need of work. They will be given considerable attention this season, I'm sure.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I guess you took the words right out of my mouth, I was coming around to Highway No. 256 and the West Branch Road which runs off it. Those are two of the roads that the analyzer machine, I believe, was travelling over in March. It was also seen on the White Hill Road. Like I said, when people see this machine, they get excited and the prospect of getting repairs is perhaps a little higher. In particular Highway No. 256 has been in the news, and there has been an active lobby by many people there, trying to get repairs for that damaged road. It's a main thoroughfare into Colchester County, into the riding of Colchester North. It's travelled by log trucks going to the mill at Scotsburn, and it's used by a lot of people as a shortcut going to Tatamagouche, and some people travel through that road on their way to Truro.
It's a well-travelled road, and a road that certainly needs repairs. Would you say, Mr. Minister, that there's some hope that that road is high on the priority list and is under active consideration for repaving this year?
MR. RUSSELL: If I said yes to that, well then every member in the House is going to pounce and want a response as to where their particular road stands. I can tell you that, well, I think we did a section of Highway No. 256 a couple of years ago, and the West Branch Road, too. Quite honestly, I do know those two roads, and I not only know the interest of the honourable member, I know that they are high on the list for consideration, let me put it that way.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Minister, certainly the residents are very much hoping that Highway No. 256 can be repaired this year, as well as the West Branch Road. I guess I would add to that list the White Hill Road. The White Hill Road is in the area back of Westville. It has also been on the priority list for quite some time. It needs a considerable amount of work as well. So that's about six kilometres, just back of the Town of Westville. It's a road that has been deteriorating since it was built in 1981, I believe. It was such a thin patch of pavement on it, almost within a year or two it was starting to fall apart. It has gone straight downhill since then.
I'm going to share my time in just a couple of minutes with my colleague, the member for Cape Breton Nova, before our time is up. Mr. Chairman, I think we have until 10:07 a.m., is it not?
MR. CHAIRMAN: That's correct.
MR. PARKER: Last year during Question Period I asked you, also, just sticking to some items in my riding, about the Durham Bridge being replaced. That was a bridge that was damaged, some of the girders were falling down, and there was some repair work done there. I think you answered me in Question Period a year ago that it would be replaced in 2005. Well, here we are in 2005, and I'd just like to get an update on what the plans are. I think you mentioned in your opening statement, Mr. Minister, that somewhere between eight and 11 bridges would be replaced this year. Can you give us an update on the Durham Bridge in Pictou County?
MR. RUSSELL: I'll deal with the bridge situation first and simply say to the honourable member, yes, it is ready, due for replacement. I can't tell you when. We have slipped behind on our Steel Truss Bridge Replacement Program. In the last year we did four bridges. We planned to spend $7 million last year, but we ended up only spending $4 million, simply because of the fact that the contracts got behind. We're having increased difficulty in bridge construction these days. I know that some members of the House are aware, because their bridge reconstruction has been affected. We have to get the authority of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, we have to get the navigable waterways
permission, we have to get our own Environment and Labour Department's permission, and we have to get the federal Department of Environment's permission in most cases.
The combination of these agencies all wanting to get their nose into the job creates some considerable difficulties for us. One of our members on this side had a bridge in Kings County, I'm told, Simpson Bridge, but that bridge was ready to go, the contractor was ready to go, we were ready to go and we just had problem after problem after problem. In fact, we actually went to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Honourable Geoff Regan, I believe, personally to try to get this thing expedited and we finally got it finished last year. So we're having problems with bridges; however, I will get the date for the replacement for that bridge to the member and I'll have it for him on Monday because we do have the steel truss bridges on a list.
It's quite interesting when we speak about roads as the member did just a few moments ago. Another of our problems, quite honestly, has been the escalation in the price of rebuilding roads. It's primarily the cost of oil. We were replacing a kilometre of road on average to give it a lift and to do the necessary shouldering and culverts, et cetera, around about $100,000 a kilometre; today, that same road costs about $175,000. That's just in a very short period of three years that it has increased that much. As the honourable member's aware while our budget is increasing, the cost of doing business is also increasing and as a result we can't do as much with a dollar today as we were doing about three years ago. Of course you could say that's obvious; however, it's a long way greater than the normal rate of inflation that you would encounter in normal years.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton Nova.
MR. GORDON GOSSE: My question is surrounding the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency. I would ask the minister, does the tar ponds agency have a communications person on staff and if so, how much is his salary?
MR. RUSSELL: Some of the questions on the tar ponds agency I can answer and some I can't unfortunately. Yes, we do have a person, and the person is Parker Donham. We don't actually have him in our employ, we have his company of which he is the primary shareholder, and he also does the majority of work as far as PR is concerned. I can get that contract for the honourable member, I don't have it with me and I don't think I have it upstairs either, but we will get you a copy of that.
MR. GOSSE: That's the contract I'm looking for. When you table that information, I'm just wondering, can I have how much the firm was given in communications for the last year?
MR. RUSSELL: We'll have that information.
MR. GOSSE: Back to Transportation and Public Works and roads, the corridor study done by CBCL on the Sydney-Glace Bay highway by your department, I'm wondering just how many of those recommendations were in that study and how long is it going to take for your department to complete any of those recommendations?
MR. RUSSELL: We are reviewing that report right now, the report is a good one and I can't tell you how many of the recommendations we'll be accommodating, but most of them appear to be reasonable. That piece of highway is just a fantastic piece of highway from the point of view of the amount of traffic and the amount of traffic that enters that road through uncontrolled intersections. It has been a festering sore for some considerable time, so hopefully, as a result of that corridor study that was done, we're going to be able to alleviate at least the majority of the major impediments to the free flow of traffic between Sydney and Glace Bay.
MR. GOSSE: My question is also along a small bridge in the area of South Bar and Highway No. 128, Arnold Bridge. It was scheduled last year to be done and I think they're changing the structure of the bridge into a new culvert system. I'm just wondering is that going to be proceeding ahead this year? I'm just wondering if that's going to be done this year. It's called Arnold Bridge in South Bar, Highway No. 128.
MR. RUSSELL: I have some good news; however, I'm not absolutely sure about it. I believe I signed off on the bridge last week - I did, good for me. (Laughter) We're a little bit late but we've gotten there. I don't believe that it is an arch bridge. (Interruption) Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Mr. Minister, I appreciate your candidness on some of the things, but I'll be as gentle as I can. I'll ask for the minister's indulgence, if he would, because I have a lot of questions and I have enough material to keep us here until next Thursday, but I don't want to do that. I would just like to ask specific questions and for him to give me an indication of whether or not the possibility exists that something could be done. I'm going to concentrate on what the minister said before on tangible assets.
Tangible assets to me are something that you can see, either put your hands on or it's a decision that has been made to do something good for the area. So tangible assets, being what they are, I think the very first tangible assets that the Department of Transportation and Public Works has are its workers and I want to compliment the workers that I know of around the province for doing the job they are doing under very extreme circumstances at times because of the cutbacks. I'd like to read from a letter from the Highway Workers Union President, Gareth Drinnan, that he would strongly urge that the employer agree to extend the
life of the current highway workers board until a new board is appointed, as we have done in past occasions.
The letter has gone to the honourable minister and I'd like to bring that to his attention in defence of the workers, as I stated. Some of them are conscientious and are reheating old, used pavement with a propane torch to make it stay and stick in the potholes longer than the cold patch does. I want to put a good word in for the workers because under the extreme situations that some of them have been working, I know in the area down around Bras d'Or, Victoria-The Lakes, some of them have left and gone out West looking for employment.
Mr. Minister, you also touched on the fact that everyone in this House is always looking for areas and you try to be as fair as you can. I believe the honourable minister, but I just want to quote from the 2003 tenders that were awarded and called as of December 31st, completed and done. In the Digby riding there was $1.5 million done in 2003; in Hants County, the minister's riding, there was $18 million compared to $1.5 million. I'll just leave that alone and let that stand on its own.
I'd like to concentrate on the lack of decision making. You were talking previously about culverts and whatnot and I know of one culvert that was going out the Georges River Road. Somebody came along from the Department of Environment and Labour or the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries or the department of smelt fishermen or something, when the Department of Transportation and Public Works was trying to install a culvert, and they thought that maybe sometime in the past or present or near future a minnow might come up there, so they shut down the work. They had to get a stainless steel culvert, $13,000 for a culvert, in case a fish might come up through there. Those are extreme situations, but there is a time and a place for everything. In some instances, I believe the pendulum has gone too far. It's time to make a decision and get on and do the job.
The minister has heard me say in the past, and I would like to just maybe see if you have the Executive Director, Mr. Delaney, there who is due to retire the end of May. I would like to wish him well in his retirement, and I hope I can get a good relationship with whoever replaces him. I would like to see, before he leaves, maybe he could give me a few gifts that I've been pestering him for for years. As the honourable minister knows, when he sees me, he says, Gerald, go away and enjoy yourself. Maybe that's why New Brunswick has better roads than we do, maybe Frank McKenna was a good salesman. I have a background of a lifetime of sales and I usually continue and continue until I get the results, whether it takes two weeks, two years or 20. It's better sometimes to just give me what I want up front.
I'd like to mention, and Mr. Delaney would be quite familiar with some of these, and I referenced it in the House the other day, the jake brakes. Ambrose, Louis and Gordie MacKinnon - you mentioned that somebody may want to shoot you. I don't know if they want to shoot you, I know they're going to hang me, because they're trying to sleep at night
and these trucks are cracking jake brakes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As I said, the truckers deserve to make a living, but something has to be done, a decision has to be made. It's less than a kilometre, 0.7 kilometres from the Beechmont Road down to Highway No. 125. Put the speed limit down to 50 kilometres an hour, and put up the sign "No jake brakes". It's a simple solution. I asked for it to be a pilot project a year ago. The thing was, well, what happens if we take the signs out of there? Well, if the jake brakes continue, take the signs out of there, or charge those who are breaking the law. If the jake brake noise stops, well then, leave the signs there. It's only 0.7 kilometres. It's not going to affect the amount of time, whether commercially or for the residents to go to and from work.
I'm just wondering, like I said, if you would give me short answers, I will give you short questions. Mr. Delaney, who is at your side is well familiar, he's the gentleman I tendered pictures to. I've given pictures to the deputy, and I've mailed pictures to the department, of highway signs saying, "No jake brakes" that I brought back from British Columbia, and it works out there, where they go back and forth with trucks loaded with large logs, empty going through town, full coming back, and never the sound of engine brakes. Is there a possibility of resolving that, so that I'll live another day, if I happen to visit the area of Balls Creek? Question number one.
MR. RUSSELL: I thank the honourable member for his dissertation on problems in his local area. To be fair, I'm sure that he expects an answer that's not frivolous but right to the point. I don't want to try to be tutorial about this either, but jake brakes are, as you probably know, a safety device, one that certainly awakens people in the middle of the night. I know when I was living out in Greenfield, I lived on Trunk 14, at the bottom of a hill (Interruptions) Yes, indeed. Bang, in the middle of the night, sort of keeps you alert and keeps you watching out for trucks. (Interruptions)
We have a signage policy for jake brakes. It's a signage policy that says no jake brakes, but it can only be erected on roads where the speed limit is 50 kilometres or less. Now the honourable member brought up British Columbia, which does indeed have a slightly different variation on the theme. Whereas jake brakes in this province, we put up no jake brakes, the sign in British Columbia requests that jake brakes not be used except in an emergency.
We are actually looking at that particular type of signage at the present time, because there are a large number of places within the province where the speed limit is legitimately 70 or 80 kilometres per hour. It would be an impediment to other drivers, other than truck drivers, to reduce the speed limit to 50 kilometres per hour. So we are certainly looking at perhaps incorporating the system that they have in British Columbia in this province.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Mr. Minister, in the meantime, I'll do my best to stay alive, to live another day. When you're saying you're looking at that now, that causes me to jump right through to what I had put on the very bottom of my list that I was going to finish off with, and Mr. Delaney is quite familiar with that, and that's a decision that the department has been trying to make since 2003. I have it in my file, the proper name, but I called it the manual for shutting down lanes, and Mr. Delaney can give you the proper name of it.
In 2003, the department decided that they would change the rules and regulations allowing the workers to shut down a lane in a reasonable amount of time, using a truck with a light bar, because presently to shut down a lane, it takes one hour, Mr. Minister, by the time the barrels and the proper number of cones are put out; five minutes to fix the pothole; and another hour to open the lane. Therefore, it's very costly to the department. Number two, the highway workers are blamed for shutting down the roads for two hours just to fill a pothole. It makes it very hard for productivity to be effective.
Madam Chairman, from 2003, it was delayed to 2004, I was sure that it was coming out in 2005, and now it's put off to 2006. It's in the Department of Environment and Labour's hands. When is somebody going to stand up and say, give us a decision and let us get on with it? What it's doing is it's starving the workers from doing their job and making their work look more costly than it actually is. Therefore, it's a negative on the workers, and very irritating, to have to stand around and try to collect two or three workers from different areas to get enough to go out to shut down a lane, when a truck with a light bar and a flag person on both ends could very well do it.
Put the onus on some of the drivers, because the workers themselves will say the most dangerous part is putting the barrels and the cones out and picking the barrels and cones back up. Once they see that they're being put out, they want to get through before the highway lane is shut down; when they see them picking them up, well, they're done and they fly right through. It's still a danger, regardless of how they're doing it. So a truck with a light bar would put the onus on the driver. If you can't see one of those travelling, it's time to give up. It's time to put the onus back on the driver and make a decision.
Madam Chairman, to the minister, I seem to have gotten a reasonable response when I talked about putting the illumination or lights at the entrance - not traffic lights, I want to make it specifically clear it's not traffic lights, it's just illumination lights on the Seal Island Bridge. I seem to have been working on that now for about six, seven years, and it seems to be coming to a reasonable conclusion. I think a nod would be good enough for that. It looked like it was going to proceed this year. Yes, okay. I received a nod, and we'll put a check mark by that one. Thank you very much.
I know you like to make political announcements, and I like the people to see me when I'm hanging off the bridge. (Interruptions)
MR. RUSSELL: I'm interrupting the honourable member on a point of order. I don't want to be offensive, but actually that honourable member brought that matter up at a meeting of the UNSM at this time of the year about two years ago. (Interruptions) Well, whenever it was. I said at that time that it didn't seem to be too great a problem, we were spending about $15 million on the bridge and you could buy a package of lightbulbs for about 69 cents for four or something so that we should be able to do something. I didn't know how difficult it was, but unfortunately what I thought was a fairly cheap thing to do, it wouldn't cost too much money, turned out to be $560,000 and that seemed to be a little bit high. What we've done is we've taken another look at the project, we are revising the tender - we'll have one out very shortly - and I'm sure the job will come in much lower and we'll get it done this year.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I don't know if that was a point of order, I think it was more information in an answer to a question.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Route 223, travelling up the Leitches Creek Road, over the Barrachois right into Iona, I have spoken to some highway officials and I know it's two kilometres from the top of the Barrachois toward Highway No. 123 that was tendered last year and awarded. I'm hearing rumours that it's quite a possibility from Highway No. 125 up to that area will be tendered this year - and I'm getting a positive nod on that, thank you very much, Mr. Minister, I appreciate that.
To go back to the question that I didn't have time to do yesterday in regard to Bert MacDonald's request from out in Scotch Lake on the MacDonald Road, he informed me that since 1960, as I said yesterday, it was on a priority list. He was guaranteed in 1980 that it was definitely going to be paved and like he said, 45 years later, because of a new policy - it's a K-Class road - it's not done. Is there any possibility of paving that road or where do we stand with that, Mr. Minister?
MR. RUSSELL: I wasn't the minister back in 1960, I came on the scene a little bit later than that, but actually I do have a file and the member's absolutely right, the road has been promised I don't know how many times, always during election periods actually. I would like to be able to say to the honourable member that yes, we're going to do that, but I can't say that today. The reason is although that road may have been promised for a long while, the present policy is not to pave gravel roads, the only gravel roads that we will pave are J-Class roads, which we do on a cost-sharing basis with the municipalities.
Other gravel roads, we are not paving simply because we don't want to lose all the pavement we have so whatever dollars we have, we're using to maintain our present paved road system. Having said that, we are considering next year starting a limited program of doing some of those gravel roads that we have around the province. It will be a small program, it'll probably be something along the order of a pilot program for the first year or two and I don't know how much money we're going to put into it, it won't be a lot but we
will make a start. You've mentioned Leitches Creek and Highway No. 125, and we have that under consideration.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: In regard to you not being around back then, I thought you were there when John Buchanan was baptised, that's what I thought anyway - just a joke. But if I'm around as long as you, I'll guarantee the minister that when I become the Minister of Transportation, I'll put my salesmanship to work and I'll really pursue and you can look back and laugh when you're watching it on the television. (Interruption) Well, we have a long extended life us Cape Bretoners, we just don't go away.
Exit 16 in Millville off Highway No. 105, I believe the honourable executive director is quite familiar with that one. He's well familiar with it that it couldn't be done under a RIM program because it's too well fractured. Barb Bailey said that it would be better to be put under capital and we've agreed to that, but I'm just wondering if Ms. Bailey will have enough money in her capital budget to look after that for me. The Minister of Energy put that in the newspaper as being on a priority list and we know what the priority list means, but I'm just wondering if that's another one I can get a nod on and we'll continue on. That was a shake of the head, put an x by that one. Am I to take that up with Ms. Bailey or is this a definite no right from the top?
MR. RUSSELL: There are a huge number of roads on the priority list, I'm looking at the honourable member for Hants East, my riding neighbour, and quite honestly, I can't go through road after road and say yes, we're going to do it or not. All the roads I'm sure that the honourable member would bring to my attention today need something done to them, but we'll do our best and that's the best I can say.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: What I'd like to do, one of the more specific questions, I was going to rhyme off the roads of the North Shore going down to Cape Smokey, the roads that are north of Cape Smokey, like the Washabuck Road, which has been called the "Road to Washout", wheel ruts on St. James, and Scotch Lake, Georges River, Long Island - well, there are a couple of specifics I will go into. There is a tender to do refurbishing and resurfacing of the Barra Strait Bridge and I would like to know from the executive director - there have been questions by the residents there - the light standards on that bridge were removed in the Fall and when the refurbishing is being done, are those light standards going to be reinstalled?
MR. RUSSELL: I obviously don't know, I have to ask the executive director. He has informed me that it's something that we'll have to consider, but he doesn't know enough about that particular item to give a positive response.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Well, I would imagine the executive director will e-mail me or something on that - yes, thank you very much. The new school in Iona, where the minister's responsible for schools being built, it has come to my attention that the cost has
gone over the projected limits and there's a fear that there will be cutbacks in the construction or a delay in the beginning of the school. Could I have an update on that? I believe there's going to be a meeting with the local people and the fear is that because the cost has escalated - as you know they go up each and every year - will there be an allowable limit for the escalation in cost rather than cutbacks to the school itself?
MR. RUSSELL: We are responsible for administering the tender, in other words, the construction. As far as the parameters of the building itself, in other words the number of classrooms, sizes, et cetera, the approval to the plans, that is left to the Department of Education. If indeed there are cost overruns, that knowledge is turned over to the Department of Education and they make the decision as to whether they're going to allocate more funding for that particular project, or whether there should be a change in the design of the project. So I would suggest that that question probably more aptly can be answered by the Minister of Education. I am prepared, though, to give you a status report as to where we are and we can get that either faxed to you or e-mailed to you.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Minister, I will pursue that with the Minister of Education.
I know when it comes to talking fuel prices that the question always is answered by the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations but, Mr. Minister, we're talking about the gathering of fuel tax on the highways and I've heard you say on several occasions that all the money that's collected in tax - I think yesterday you said $50-plus million more you were putting into highways. I would like to say that Robert MacLellan, who is a councillor for Victoria County and a fisherman down in Bay St. Lawrence, is presently paying $1.18 a litre for diesel. That's from the Co-op Fisheries tanks on the wharf down there and that's a tremendously high price.
Denton Ehler has the Ultramar Service Station in Whycocomagh. When I fuelled up there on the way coming up, he has it for 95 cents a litre and he's quite familiar, after being in business for quite some years, and the truckers who go in there on a continuous basis inform him that they pay 75 cents a litre in Ontario. I'm just wondering, does the Department of Transportation and Public Works have any resolve or any wish to deal with the Department of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations in order to - I was a member of the committee on fuel prices that travelled around the province last year. I know it's probably a good windfall for the province, but when you get into excessive costs like that, that are unpredictable and the rapid fluctuations, is there any talk or any negotiations going on within the department to regulate fuel prices or to do something to cause stability in the volatile fuel market?
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, the estimates of the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations are coming up in the Red Chamber, I believe either later today or on Monday, and that question is probably better answered by that particular minister, but I can tell the honourable member that, to the best of my knowledge - and I would have to check with the Minister of Finance to ensure that these figures are correct - that in point of fact we are not making any great profits from the rise in the cost of motive fuels because the gallonage, or the number of litres is decreasing even though the price increases and the two are more or less balancing each other out. So our take in taxes provincially remain pretty constant.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: I raise that, Mr. Minister, simply because I find that people in rural areas, a tank of fuel does us maybe a day whereas a tank of fuel within an urban area like HRM or CBRM would probably last you a week, and it seems an undue strain on rural areas as compared to urban.
Madam Chairman, the honourable minister has stated that everything that is collected in motive fuel tax is being put back into the roads and I go to the Nova Scotia Budget 2005-06 and on Page 34, it states that, ". . . every cent and more of the motive fuel tax we collect is spent maintaining and improving our roads, replacing our bridges, or making our highways safer." But when I go over to Page B19 and I look at the pie chart that's there, the portion for Transportation is 3.3 per cent - that was for 2004-05 - and then the chart directly below it - 2005-06 - shows 3.4 per cent. So that's only a 0.1 per cent increase, from 3.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent, and at the same time the minister himself has stated that we are $3.1 billion in deficit when it comes to road construction and by the time 2011 comes around, we're going to be $4.4 billion. So I'm just wondering, the discrepancy in that pie chart, it doesn't look like you're putting everything into highways, and maybe the minister could give me an answer to that.
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, the point that the honourable member raises is one that I addressed actually earlier this morning. The budgets in Nova Scotia now are formulated according to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, whereby the capital is considered as a budgetary item separate from the operating side. The numbers that you have quoted in that pie chart were the operating expenditures. The expenditures under the TCA are an additional $142.827 million. So that accounts, I think, for the discrepancies which he has identified. The Tangible Capital Assets are displayed in the Estimates Book. I can't tell you what page they're on, but they're in there and you'll find them in the index.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Madam Chairman, the honourable minister stated yesterday that they receive 450,000 e-mails per day. Now, to me, that signals something is wrong or extremely right and I would assume that a large portion of these 450,000 e-mails is either people complaining or requesting work to be done on their road. You were saying that we're going to be in the hole by $4.4 billion come 2011 and what I'm looking at is the lack of a plan, or the mismanagement thereof, because it's like you're looking forward to
going further in the hole rather than working out a budget or working out a way that we can eventually break even. I know the cost of roads continues to escalate and when I talk about the lack of a plan, Mr. Minister, what I've been doing is printing off the e-mails that I have received from your department in regard to tenders and I have numerous tenders here which I'm very happy to have.
By the way, that Barra Strait Bridge one is right here, so they're going to do surface preparation and protective coatings, and that one has been awarded. But my problem with that is it's a lot of work, it's a lot of tenders, and it's great to see, but why are we putting out tenders in April, May and June? As I've said it before, I would like to see a comprehensive plan.
All these tenders that I have here in my hand that are being called for and they're all going to be awarded, why can't we have a plan that these tenders are called in the Fall? You must know in the Fall what work you're going to do in the Spring and what that would do, I'm saying this would grow rural economic development. You have contractors who have aging equipment, they're on pins and needles hoping that in the Spring they'll receive a contract, or two or three. If they were awarded a tender in the Fall, they would feel secure that they have two or three tenders under their belt, and then the workers and their families know that they can go to work as soon as the roads are open in the Spring, so the families are stable, and the contractor is stable.
The contractor may just go out and say, I have these two or three contracts under my belt and I'll probably get another one or two, yes, I will upgrade my equipment, yes, I will hire another worker or two. The families, the dad or the mom or the worker with the contracting company will say, yes, I'm going to work in the Spring as soon as the roads open, so therefore they will spend some extra dollars that they ordinarily wouldn't spend, for fear of not getting work in the Spring. If there was a comprehensive plan for that, and I have been preaching a five-year plan with another five years of fluctuation where you can bring in these roads. Does the minister have a plan for at least one year, if not five? Could you give me some information on that?
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, the member makes a valid point about getting tenders out early and I'm very, very pleased with what we are doing in the department to actually do that. At one time the tenders used to come out after the budget had passed so, for instance, if we were still back in those days we would have no tenders out for this construction season. In point of fact, this year we do have something in the order of about $65 million in tenders out already. Some of those tenders were actually put out and awarded in the Fall of last year. We can't go too far ahead, because we are restricted by the Finance Act, which states that until the budget is passed we can only really expend 50 per cent of the prior year's budget. So there are some limitations on how much we can actually expend in advance of the budget. As I said, this year we have $65 million in tenders out and that's pretty good.
I can tell the honourable member that I meet on a regular basis with the Nova Scotia Road Builders Association and they are - to put it mildly - tickled pink with our program for this year. They are very, very encouraged with the fact that we are moving ahead in allocating additional resources at the Department of Transportation and Public Works, and that the department is responding by getting tenders out to them early which does, indeed, enable them to secure their labour force and equipment needs, et cetera, for the construction year. It is still very early for the construction to actually start, around about now is normally when they start to get their equipment out and up and running, and actually getting into the paving business.
We do have a plan but our plan is always predicated on what kind of money we expect to get. As I said, this is one department that runs on money and if we have the additional funding we can do more. Quite honestly, we would perhaps be limited to some extent by how much the present contracting force can do in a given year. We haven't reached that limit yet but as we put more money into the program, more contractors enlarge their workforce, enlarge their scope of operations and more small contractors, who are presently perhaps only taking RIM contracts, move into major construction contracts, for instance, on the 100-Series Highways or something of that nature.
We want to have a viable and competitive system out there among the road builders and we have that at the present time, and it seems to be expanding. All in all, I think, Madam Chairman, although it's not perfect, we're doing much better than we have in the past and we are continuing to improve.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Mr. Minister, when you allude to more money in the Department of Transportation and Public Works, and it creates better roads, you're right on there in that fact and I agree with you on that. You said that the extra $30 million was going to go to rural roads. Is that what I understand, you're going to concentrate on secondary roads? I know you mentioned about a test vehicle that was travelling around - and I copied down the name of it somewhere - but we do our own testing on the roads in Cape Breton and they have these Dodge Ram trucks and when the horns fall off the ram, we know the road needs to be constructed. The horns have been falling off a lot of trucks lately, Mr. Minister, and that's why I'm glad to see that money is going into secondary roads.
Roads do not just affect travel per se. I'm looking here at a picture of the honourable Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, the honourable Minister of Energy, and Scott MacAulay, who owns the Inverary Inn and this was in the Cape Breton Post on April 2, 2005. I refer to the $400,000 investment into the look-offs around the Cabot Trail. It stated that one of the things that visitors are looking for is a scenic, natural landscape and if they can't see the natural landscape then they're not going to get the full experience.
Madam Chairman, to the honourable minister, they are getting the full experience now by the fact that some of the information I had from Alastair MacLeod, who is the chairman of the chambers of commerce for all of Nova Scotia, that said we love your scenery, we love your hospitality, but your roads are terrible and we're not coming back. So roads affect rural economic development, they affect urban economic development, they affect tourism - a big, multi-million dollar generator - and we have to concentrate on improving what we have.
I know that the honourable member for Digby-Annapolis, when we were talking yesterday in the House during Question Period, his favourite topic, as you're well aware, is alders, or the lack of cutting alders. When you were discussing the new bridges that you had purchased, he made a statement to me that he has alders down there that he could build bridges with that are so large in diameter across the stump. So I know as much as you are doing, there is a lot more to be done.
I'd like to refer to the fact that it's not just ourselves, as Opposition members, beating up on you or bringing these things to your attention, but when you have somebody, for example - as I said in previous presentations - like the gentleman who writes for the Thunder Press and hands this out to 120,000 Harley-Davidson enthusiasts, and he states that they're driving along dodging potholes, hitting potholes, weaving, you can only do 35 to 40 miles an hour and feel safe, that's not good advertising for anywhere in the province, let alone on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. I noticed the same day you put out the release with 10,000 motorcycle users in our province, motorcycles are a popular form of recreation and transportation, and you designated May as Motorcycle Month. I'm just pointing out to the honourable minister that with that kind of negative advertising, that's something we don't need.
Madam Chairman, I go back again to Alastair MacLeod and another large article in the Cape Breton Post on March 19th. As I said, he's president of the chambers of commerce in Nova Scotia and he said that people will not come back again. The road system is a serious handicap to doing business and so much of our business involves tourism - whether it be tourism, manufacturing or somebody would just like to set up an IT centre - if they're going to destroy their vehicle. As I stated previously this week, we had a couple that live on the Long Island Road who called about the deplorable situation of the road with the ruts, and they kind of bottomed out and scraped a fender and bent a rocker panel. Another couple up in Beaver Cove, which is on Route 223, they bottomed out in one of the ruts and the oil pan came off the bottom of the car. That left a married couple on the shoulder of the road, with the oil run out of their vehicle and severe damage.
These are things that I bring to your attention simply because they are real and everything is all interconnected. Nothing operates in a vacuum, roads connect everything. I also see the honourable Minister of Education here, and I stated in a previous address to this Chamber about the cost of bad roads to education. I don't know if there are any schools left
in Nova Scotia that do not have school buses transporting students. When you have school buses travelling on these deteriorated roads and the cost of repairs - we hear the cost of repairs and complaints from the regular travellers, it started in my office with broken belts and tires, and escalated to people calling up with $500 aluminum rims cracked, along with the tire gone. And as I said just a few minutes ago, when people lose the oil pan off their cars.
We have school buses travelling on the same roads, heavy vehicles, expensive vehicles loaded with children, and they're not going to hold up near as long on bad roads as they would on good paved roads. What's happening to the school boards is they're spending excessive dollars repairing these school buses when a lot of it would not be necessary.
It's affecting all budgets everywhere. I bring these things to the minister's attention just in the hope there will be something done. I'll read from a letter to the editor in the Victoria Standard: Our secondary routes are atrocious. Business operators from Yarmouth to Sydney are sounding the alarm. That was, again, from Alastair MacLeod, president of the chambers of commerce. We're getting constant complaints from our business operators along the Eastern Shore, the Glooscap Trail, the Cabot Trail, the South Shore and the Valley. If the province doesn't take this seriously, we can kiss our most important business links goodbye.
Mr. Minister, as you're well aware, we added to the Liberal Web site, the "Road of the Week". It was very popular, and came about without us soliciting any pictures or letters. They came last year, and they've started to come again this year. There's just no way that we could ignore it, they were coming from all over the province.
Mr. Minister, being $4.4 billion behind by 2011 begs the question, are we allowing too much weight on the roads with the trucks? Are we just not building the roads properly? I know there's been a long-time deterioration in the roadbeds that was brought to my attention by Ms. Barb Bailey and Charles MacDonald from Baddeck. They readily admitted that to patch that would be useless - you would have to dig it out with a backhoe or an excavator, put the proper roadbed back in place, just to fill a pothole. So rather than going out and filling a pothole, now we're going out and doing major construction on a pothole - more cost.
I don't know if the policy that you'll adopt will be to take these secondary roads - the $30 million that you've designated for them - strip the road of the paving, plane the pavement off. Charles MacDonald informed me they tried a test last year over in Lake Ainslie and they left the roadbed as it was. They put down a layer, one foot, of Class A gravel, rolled it tight, and then turned to work and paved it. So you actually have like a sandwich, rather than removing that base. That was done on a test basis. He informed me that it appeared to hold up reasonably well.
Madam Chairman, I hope the money for planing can be put into gravel - it appears that you could do a lot more with the road, in that respect. I'm just wondering, and I'll ask the minister to comment on this, I would like to know about that road - Charles thought that it held up reasonably well - I'm just wondering, because apparently that's the plan for the Groves Point Road, down my way, could the minister comment on that? Does that seem to be a better solution than planing the pavement and redoing it?
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, the honourable member raises an interesting question, actually. Yes, it does result in a better road, but I would point out to the honourable member - and this is very important - that those roads cost in the vicinity of $250,000 a kilometre. So you couldn't do that too often, I would suggest, or if you did do that, you would certainly cut down on the number of kilometres that you could pave in a given year. There are certainly things that we could do.
For instance, on some of our 100-Series Highways, we're using concrete. Concrete stands up, generally speaking, better than asphalt. However, concrete costs more money, but we know that concrete, long term, needs less maintenance. So there is a cost saving, there's an additional expenditure. Overall, Madam Chairman, we have to weigh, in each case, the importance of that particular road that we're working on, the amount of traffic, the weight of the traffic on that road, and those factors, before we decide on what kind of fix we're going to put in place.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Mr. Minister, I'm glad to see that you're being innovative in highway construction. Another topic I'd like you to comment on is, I understand that within the past couple of years there has been experimentation with asphalt, and included in the asphalt composition was a rubber compound, tires that had been chipped or pulverized and added to the pavement, and I'm just wondering, has that been proven effective, did it make more elasticity in the pavement, to avoid cracking, and did it make it stand up better to wear and tear? How did that prove out?
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, we had a project last year, in fact it was a road in Pictou County, to the Michelin Plant. Michelin provided the crumb rubber for the particular project. This type of asphalt is used extensively in the U.S., in the southern parts. We believe it has good applicability to the conditions that we have in Nova Scotia, but unfortunately the experiment last year failed. It failed, not because of any human error but simply because the type of equipment we had was not adequate for the particular job. So we abandoned it and used normal asphalt for that job. We are, however, looking at another project at the present time. We're going to use a different type of machine. We haven't yet decided whether it will be this year or next year, but there is another project that we're going to pursue.
Madam Chairman, rubberized asphalt has certain advantages, particularly, as I said, in provinces like Nova Scotia, where you have freezing and thawing, and freezing and thawing, over a fairly long period. This gives expansion and contraction to the road surface, so that it can accommodate those kinds of temperature changes without actually getting a break you occasionally see in asphalt surfaces. So, yes, we are looking at those kinds of things. That is a very interesting one because it's not overly expensive and I believe it's going to prove very, very useful for our circumstances here in this province.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Would the honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes allow an introduction?
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Yes.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Fairview on an introduction.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: Madam Chairman, I would like to thank the member for yielding the floor. In the west gallery today we have 16 students from Grade 5 and Grade 6 at the Armdale Campus of the Halifax Christian Academy. They're accompanied today by Lugena Meng, Stephen Devries, Donna Innis and Cathy Splane. I would like to ask our guests to rise and receive the welcome of the House. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I certainly hope our guests enjoy their stay.
The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Mr. Minister, I hope we can develop some kind of a composition or material that could be as long-lasting as the minister. Then all our problems would be solved in road construction, and I mean that as a compliment. As I told you personally the other day, I have the highest respect for you, sir, but I do want my roads fixed. (Interruptions)
Having said that, Mr. Minister, as I said, my goal is to follow you, sir, and when I become Minister of Transportation, I am already working toward that goal. I get very upset when I see the road crew out there putting what they call a cold patch into potholes. All it is, it's gravel with tar and two or three trips over that, what doesn't flick up under your fenders and you carry off with your tires, bounces out within a day or so. I'm just wondering, through your research department, would you consider if I sent you a letter - I'm actively pursuing the possibility of creating a material to patch potholes.
It's not rocket science what I'm proposing, but it's something that I have brought forward to the Cape Breton University Laboratory Department. They're going to make an estimate on the possibility of the cost to research this, but what my idea to them was, and they've been very open to accept it, and it has come out of the idea of our favourite, the Seal Island Bridge, we could not get the reflectors, as they call them, delineators, to stay on the bridge. Young Steve MacDonald shopped around and shopped around - he's an area supervisor, the OS down there, operation supervisor - until he came up with a double cylinder that holds two tubes of caulking and you cut them open. When you squeeze it, it's an epoxy, and if you put that on the bridge, the delineator will stay. It stayed there all through the winter with the snowplows and the wings spraying the snow up, and they're still there and it's very effective.
That has given me the idea that if we could go out with a Department of Transportation and Public Works truck with a load of gravel, a container or two of some kind of a solution, and maybe you could mix it in a wheelbarrow, or mix it in something that you could take in a wheelbarrow, if a pothole was to take a wheelbarrow full of gravel, you could put that in the wheelbarrow, put in your two types of solution. Maybe one could be water, wet the gravel, and then you add something to it, mix it up, dump it in the hole, level it off, and within five minutes or so it would harden.
I mean in this day and age, if we can send a man to the moon, you know, we could make things that dry instantly. If they pour concrete in the middle of the wintertime now and whatnot, why can't we have something that would harden whether it be in August and fill a pothole, or whether it be in January, so that we could go out and do it. So my next step in the research end of it is the financial capability of doing this. The laboratory down there is very enthusiastic about doing it. I dealt with Mrs. Carol MacLeod who was the contact person there, and the chemists down there are very enthused about looking at this and testing it and trying out different compositions.
So I'm just wondering, being innovative and technology minded in the Department of Transportation and Public Works, would you consider a request like that if I was to send that into the department, where you would consider funding an experimental project like that and Cape Breton University would do the research to see if we could come up with a suitable product?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would just let you know that there's about one minute left to this questioning.
MR. RUSSELL: Well, I would like to answer the honourable member's question, I was wondering if the House would agree to extending that for my answer. Thank you.
Patching potholes in the Winter is a tremendous problem, it's worldwide. Everybody recognizes the fact that in the summertime you go out with red-hot asphalt and you put it in a hole, you roll it or tap it down, and in Summer it stays there. In the wintertime, the problem is you put asphalt in the hole, it's not hot asphalt, it's a cold patch. It congeals and hardens, but the trouble is you don't get adhesion to the sides of the pothole so that traffic on the road vibrates and shakes the pothole loose and eventually your mixture within that hole comes out in a solid block and flies off somewhere into the ditch or beside the road. But the whole problem is, as the honourable member has already said, in wintertime it's a real problem.
We have tried several things, I should tell the honourable member, in the way of innovative solutions to that and some of them have been very expensive but, however, they haven't worked so we're still using cold asphalt. The honourable member says that they're doing some research up in Cape Breton and we would be delighted to hear about it because there's no doubt about it, there has to be a solution in this day and age to getting that adhesion to the surface of the pothole and if we can do that, we can repair potholes in the wintertime and that would be a major advance.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the Liberal questions has ended and we're going to go to the Official Opposition.
The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Madam Chairman, I want to say thanks very much to the minister and to his staff, I appreciate an opportunity to question them. I also want to thank the member for Cape Breton West for allowing some flexibility for us to question right now, and particularly for me because actually Natural Resources is starting in the other room and I really should be there. So it took a little bit of rejigging with my colleagues so that I could question the minister.
The first thing I want to ask the minister, I know he's aware of the Maitland Bridge situation, and I know the councillor for the area and some of the residents I met with the other day, they were very keen to have the minister go out, so you and I have discussed that, and it seems to be not possible. I can understand the demands (Interruption) Not now, yes, right, but anyway the question came up actually as to whether or not Mr. Delaney could go out and have a look there, so I just wonder if that's a possibility.
MR. RUSSELL: Well, Madam Chairman, actually one of these days, hopefully in the very near future, this House is going to pass the budget and pass some legislation and we're going to adjourn. When we do that, I'm quite prepared to go up and take a look there. As I understand it, and I'm not absolutely sure about this, but I think that the Department of Environment and Labour was there yesterday, I believe, and I can't see the Minister of Environment and Labour, but I can confirm that perhaps later in the day.
There is a problem there and I don't know if it's an easy one to fix or a difficult one to fix but it would appear that armour rock, or something of that nature, on the left-hand side of the river - and the honourable member, I know, told me yesterday I was wrong, it's on the right-hand side of the river, but we'll find the right side of the river anyway to try to prevent that scouring action that's taking place. There is also a washout from the road down to the river and obviously that, too, is going to have to be taken care of. I don't know if that requires a culvert across the road or what, but obviously we can't afford to have the shoulder of the road washing away in that fashion and just getting into the river.
MR. MACDONELL: I appreciate that and I just want to make it clear to the minister that I recognize even in nature when things move to the right, it causes problems. So if you could stay to the left, you are probably further ahead. You're right, there is a problem with the shoulder and it looks like there was some underground piping there and some of it has collapsed. I would appreciate it, when the House rises, if you could come out with me and we could take a look at that. It's not your usual bridge-over-troubled-waters situation. The way the department had tried to reinforce underneath that bridge, it kind of created a sluiceway and the fact that it's tidal as well, I think, has just added to the complication in that area. So I thank you for that.
I want to ask, there is a new school in Elmsdale that the province built in 2001, I think, if I'm not mistaken. Anyway, it's off MacMillan Drive, which is a municipal road, so there has been fair complaint that the province had a responsibility to pave that road, the entrance to the school, but I think much more of a factor, one of the complications, I guess, that came to me from one of the councillors was - and I guess it must be the engineering staff of the municipality who said - there's a 30 per cent increase in the cost of paving that to bring it up to a commercial standard. I asked the engineer, Mr. Kelly in Windsor, about that. I said, is there such a thing as a commercial standard in paving? He said you pave roads, it would be no different than Highway No. 2, I never heard tell of such a thing. So I haven't really found out exactly what it is that the municipal office is referring to but they were, I think, on the idea that the department should fund the difference.
One thing I would like to see the department do - and I think, if I'm not mistaken, that school comes under your department still - is not hand it off to wherever, because I just looked at some correspondence between the municipality and your department and I am wondering about the department funding, actually, or the province helping to fund for a sidewalk along that street. There was someone trying to avoid a pothole here about a week or so ago, moved over on the road and struck a child on a bicycle. So I'm just wondering, it would seem if the province doesn't see itself responsible for paving this road, which is a municipal road, I'm wondering if they would see a responsibility in terms of safety and helping to fund a sidewalk there.
MR. RUSSELL: The honourable member has asked me a question and I wish I could give him a more adequate response but number one, the Department of Transportation and Public Works does not build sidewalks, period, anywhere. If, indeed, there is a school that requires a sidewalk, then it's something between the school board and the Department of Education and a contractor that would be hired by them to do it, but we do not do that. Secondly, on that particular road, when they talk about a commercial road, I think what they are referring to is a classification of road on weight. In other words it would not be subject to the Spring weight restrictions. So there are two standards of road. You wouldn't require that to go to a school because school buses, obviously, are accommodated under the present weight system. That road, I believe, is a municipal road and, as such, it belongs to the municipality and it's their job to look after it.
It's interesting because the municipalities in Nova Scotia don't have that many roads to look after and they are going to be receiving considerable sums of money from the federal government from the gasoline tax to look after their roads, so we would be delighted to see them using all those funds that they get on roads. I suspect that some of those monies that they get are going to go on to other infrastructure projects that perhaps they may consider to be higher up the priority list than roads.
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Minister, I appreciate that. You are probably not familiar with the timeline on those federal dollars. Do you know when the municipalities are supposed to get those?
MR. RUSSELL: They actually flow in fiscal 2005-06, but they are subject to the federal budget for the appropriation of money to distribute.
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Minister, I would like to get a timeline, if I could, on some other bridges and actually I have written the minister and I'm wondering about the Weir Bridge, which is on the South Rawdon Road in Rawdon. I don't think it's referred to as the Lakelands - I guess I don't have that right at my fingertips - but there is the Herbert River Bridge which was close to where you lived, the concrete bridge. I've heard concerns about that for some time so those two bridges, I would like to know, as quickly as they can be dealt with.
MR. RUSSELL: I will have to take that question under advisement, Madam Chairman. I will make a commitment that I will get that information to the member. Actually, the concrete bridge on Trunk 14, I crawled under that bridge to take a look and in point of fact, the abutments on the bridge are good but the deck of the bridge and the walls down either side, which are actually concrete, are badly cracking and popping out. So we will have to do some work on that particular bridge.
MR. MACDONELL: I have to say, I'm impressed. (Laughter) I'm impressed that the minister would get down underneath a bridge to look because it's something that I've kind of been intending to do so if the minister beat me to it, I would tend to think I could hop in and out of there easier than the minister. So if he did that, I have to say, I'm very impressed. I know the people who have raised this with me will be impressed to find out that you cared enough to get down there and look.
A couple of other areas. One is in my own backyard, actually. I live on the Renfrew Road, which is a gravel road and then it branches but continues; the maintained portion is actually Lake Road, or some people refer to it as the Monte Vista Road. It's about three kilometres and those residents are quite concerned, I think you are probably aware of the chip seal notion. The meeting that I was at, I think they have kind of abandoned the idea of trying to get it paved. So in my experience of doing this job and the roads in Hants East, I can't think of a gravel road that has been paved other than a subdivision road, a cost-shared road.
So my thought is, when I spoke to them, this would be a particularly difficult project to try to get done in light of some of the other paved roads that need to be repaved and as well as probably the road when you leave Highway No. 2 in Enfield to head out past where I live, that pavement really should be replaced at some point and perhaps their road could be done as part of a bigger project, if it was ever going to be done. Anyway, I will be pursuing that. I know they are doing a petition and activity will increase. I just wonder if the minister could tell me, in regard to gravel roads and maybe that road in particular.
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, I'm making an intervention because I will be pleased to answer that particular question. At the present time, it is policy to only pave gravel roads that are J-Class roads, which are the residential streets that we do on a 50/50 basis with the municipalities. Other gravel roads - and we have about 10,000 kilometres of gravel roads in the Province of Nova Scotia - we are not paving at the present time, because we want to protect the ones that we presently have that are paved which require repaving.
However, I can tell the honourable member that we have a program that we are formulating at the present time which will probably be in the next fiscal year, 2006-07. We will be allotting a block of money to start off a pilot program of paving gravel secondary roads in the province. It won't be a lot of money, I don't know, maybe a million or two - maybe $3 million initially - but that will at least get us started on this program because some of those gravel roads, as the honourable member is aware, because he has some in his riding, are very heavily residential but they are not J-Class roads, but they are still like a J-Class road in that there are houses cheek by jowl virtually one after the other. Those are the kinds of roads that we want to tackle initially under this program and again it will be like the J-Class program that we have at the present time. It will be divided up county by county, evenly across the province and we will do whatever we can do.
MR. MACDONELL: So does that mean that the residents will have to cost share? Is that what you are saying, the residents will have to cost share those? Okay, on my road in particular, I think there are 68 people who live on that road. It's three kilometres of road with 68 houses and all the houses - most of them, actually, are at one end. In my own case, I have roughly 170 acres with a fair bit of frontage and not a lot of houses so I'm not sure, depending on how the math is done, how that would work for me.
MR. RUSSELL: There is the proposition that the municipalities, again from the money that they receive from the federal government on the gasoline tax, may choose within their own municipality to step in and cost share.
MR. MACDONELL: Would those roads have to be submitted by the municipalities the same as in the J-Class roads? I think the municipality approaches the department and they petition the residents.
MR. RUSSELL: As I said before, actually the program is being formulated at the present time and that is something that will be in the program, but I can't tell you what it would be.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I appreciate that. I look forward to hearing a little more about that as it develops and hopefully a little flexibility, I would ask.
Just one other road I will throw in. You don't have to comment. It's in the Stanley area of my constituency. I'm trying to think if there is a name for it. I remember pursuing it some time ago and I've forgotten what the name would be. It's about 0.5 kilometre or less, 0.4 kilometre maybe. It's a very short section. Actually, it goes from the Hants West line (Interruption) It's what, Vaughan Road? It almost strikes me, the fact that the pavement stopped at the Hants East line tends to make me think I wasn't around when that happened.
Anyway, there is a gentleman, Mr. Barkhouse, who lives on that section of road and there was a lot of logging in that area, I think, coming out past the Stanley Airport. Actually one time he went to clean out the gutters on his roof, or his eaves, and when he undid the bolts, they fell off. They were full of dust that had blown up onto his roof from these trucks going by and then as it rained, it washed this silt into his eavestroughs and they were plugged full, to give you some idea. He's asking if it's possible to get this little stretch of road paved, so if there is a program that would help him, I'd be glad to see it. When you look at it, you say to yourself, how ridiculous can this be, because we have pavement here and we have pavement here and we have this short little section of public road that didn't get done.
There is a road, it's called the Barr Settlement Road and as long as I've been doing this job, we've always said, if we could get a little bit done on this road every year - and I think two years ago, I had the engineer, Mr. Kelly, out and he said, okay, I believe you, you don't have to tell me any more. The road was so bad the mail deliverer wouldn't go over it.
So the department did do a fair bit of work. As I talked to him afterwards - we spent quite a bit on that last year - my point was, yes, but it required a fair bit spent every year, if you did a little bit every year for five years. I think the road this Spring is still broke up fairly badly and it does require a fair bit of work. I'm just thinking in this day and age, the gravel road I'm on is a fairly good road and I think about those residents on that road and I know their road is not as good as mine, so I know the quality can improve.
I don't know if you guys would have that information as to any plan for that particular road with you here today so I won't pursue it, but I'm really concerned that a little bit every year is done, in particular gravelling and ditching on that road.
MR. RUSSELL: I didn't catch it. Was there a question at the end of that or were you just commenting on what . . .
MR. MACDONELL: I guess I was looking for a reaction. (Interruption) Well, I figure if the minister would get down and look under a bridge, he probably was out walking on the Barr Settlement Road.
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, I happen to know the member's riding quite well. It used to belong to the Progressive Conservatives at one time and he has a large number of roads. The roads within East Hants though, on average, are quite good and we have spent, I think he will agree, a fairly substantial sum of money most years on roads in his area. Road repair runs sort of in cycles to a certain extent in that we try to accommodate contractors in their tendering because we can get better prices if we have a few jobs within a few kilometres of each other. So sometimes you might have a year that you don't have a tremendous amount going on and another year where you do have a tremendous amount going on, so it's not unusual to have those kinds of things occur.
I know that I went out with the honourable member and we went down - I forget the name of the road - the East Uniacke Road and that's a road that's not in great shape. I think we are doing a section this year. The road is generally pretty poor and we should probably do the whole thing, but the trouble is we just don't have the money to do those kinds of things and the best we can do is nibble away at it and do a section year after year and try to catch up. Quite honestly, as I say, the roads in East Hants are something like the roads in West Hants. Our roads in West Hants were terrible because there was nothing done, not one cent spent for a period of about seven years. So they were in bad shape and they are catching up and I would say that East Hants and West Hants now are pretty well equal.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you, Mr. Minister, and he's right, the minister did come over to the East Uniacke Road with me and I think the concern - and I will refer the Hansard of the budget estimates to those people - is where the department has tendered, and where the tendered area stops, actually was an area that had some work . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works and myself are having problems hearing the questions. It's a bit quiet over on this side.
MR. MACDONELL: I will get to the Minister of Education on the MacMillan Drive sidewalk. I think the residents who are on the section that wasn't tendered recognize that the previous section some 20 years or so ago had some work, the part that's being repaved, and I think they are feeling somewhat left out. I will continue to pursue that. I think they are thinking this is the oldest section, it has never really been redone, but whether it's Route 202 through West Gore, McInnis Road - and I'm not going to knock the minister, I know that when the Liberal member was in Hants East around 1996-97, they started to do some paving, did most of Route 14 and some of the South Rawdon Road and Burntcoat Head Road. I think probably while there was pavement going in Hants East, it wasn't going in Hants West so I think even I recognize that, as naive as I might have been coming to the House of Assembly, but I have now been here for seven years and I think we have had a road paved every year except for 2003, the year of the election. It's surprising to me.
I guess when I think about some of the roads, Route 354, Route 215 - Route 215 being part of it is part of the Glooscap Trail - and it just baffles me that we've spent money on an ad to advertise the province to the rest of the world, and yet we have a route that's determined to be one of the designated tourist routes that can be so bad. I'd like to see the province actively pursue, if it's not a program to see that those tourist routes are in great shape, at least put some effort there. The roads in Hants East that need to be paved, definitely need to be paved and I think the minister is aware of that. I even look at it, thinking of what the potential length of my political career might be . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Pretty short!
MR. MACDONELL: I'm not aspiring to be around as long as the honourable minister but I'm thinking if we do x number of kilometres a year, we are never going to get caught up and the roads that are being done, or were done recently, will have to be redone before there are some that haven't been done at all. I worry about trying to get things done in a timely manner, but definitely roads that are tourist routes and so on would seem - and I'm not even talking about side roads like White Settlement, for heaven's sake. The road is in terrible condition and it's not going to get bumped up very high compared to say Route 215 or Route 354, and they're not done yet. I don't know if the minister wants to respond.
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, Route 215 is a road that runs along the shore and it's gorgeous, I mean it's just a beautiful part of Nova Scotia and there are lots of beautiful parts of Nova Scotia, but that one in particular is a wonderful area. It's certainly a great road for tourists to travel, except that the road, Route 215, is not in particularly great shape. As a matter of fact, Route 215 was paved by Mr. Robert Stanfield, so you can get some indication of how far back that goes.
We are doing sections of Route 215 and I would imagine over the next five, six, seven, eight years, somewhere in that area, we will have the route paved but it's incredibly costly. It's a long stretch of highway. I'll have to turn to Martin and ask. It's 120 kilometres or 130 kilometres. (Interruption) Yes, it's a long highway. It's about 120 kilometres. You work that out at $175,000 a kilometre and you're taking almost the whole capital budget for a year to do it, but we'll get there and we are moving on it.
MR. MACDONELL: I'm going to tidy up my remarks only because I'm supposed to be in Natural Resources. I think my colleagues have questions as well.
I guess a couple of points and, Mr. Minister, I won't force you to respond for time, but the question of snow removal in East Hants last year, it was a real issue and I talked to Mr. Delaney. They said that they were having a re-look at this but definitely having equipment that can move snow, I would see that as important. Everybody who is plowing driveways in East Hants has a four-wheel drive truck yet the department doesn't have one in East Hants. I find that hard to believe. If you're thinking, well, we don't want more equipment because you don't get all that use out of it in the summertime or whatever, every farmer who has a bailer has it stored away for 10 months of the year until he needs it for a month. So I think the taxpayers are willing to pay to have the right equipment available at the right time of year.
I think with that I will end my remarks and say thank you and I will pursue you outside the Chamber on other issues.
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, a quick response to the last remarks of the honourable member because they are quite appropriate. We are doing a review right across the province of equipment and the type of equipment and the amount of equipment that we have in the various sheds across the province. The new equipment that we are getting is very much superior to the old equipment that we have had and we are replacing the old equipment as rapidly as we can. We are spending about $6 million this year on new equipment and, as I say, we are doing this review. It will be finished about mid-Summer, I'm advised, so we will have the equipment perhaps redistributed across the province this coming Winter, which we hope will take care of those areas where they get the very heavy snow that requires either heavy-duty snowplows or else front-end loaders of considerable capacity. So, as I say, that is being done and it should be in place for next Winter.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MS. MICHELE RAYMOND: Mr. Minister, I only have a few minutes but one of the things that I guess, hopefully, is the unifying question, my riding of Halifax Atlantic is included in the Halifax Regional Municipality but a lot of that area is, in fact, rural so there are a number of provincial roads. There are also former rural roads which are essentially still rural roads. There seems to be a real question, at this point, as to exactly who is going to be responsible for them over the long haul.
I've talked to Department of Transportation and Public Works engineers and there seems to be a bit of a vacuum, I guess, a sense of not knowing just what inventory of streets the two jurisdictions, municipal and provincial, even each have on the table to exchange, so I have the sense that perhaps there is some paralysis going on at this level. I will give you some examples, first of all, of the kinds of roads about which I am approached. The Nickerson Road at East Pennant is some 30 years old and it has never been graded. What has happened is I've begun being approached by residents who have been living there for the 30 years and are getting old enough that they can no longer go out and do the patching of the roads and the grading of the roads themselves, which is literally what they have been doing and they are hoping that at this point the road will be finally graded. So the Nickerson Road is the sort of thing that perhaps has been lying in this interregnum.
The Grays Road, one of the Grays Roads at Sambro, is in a similar situation and Atlantic View Drive. The Chebucto Head Road is a particular problem, of course, because it is the road which leads to the federal lighthouse and the question about divestiture, whether or not, in fact, this road, as part of the lighthouse, will it be going to the province, will it be going to the municipality. It's unclear.
Some of these streets, there is perhaps a problem because there is a lack of coordination between the municipal and provincial jurisdictions in the granting of permits. I know there is a form of permit that the Department of Transportation and Public Works needs to grant as well for the location of (Interruption) I'm sorry, what is it called?
AN HON. MEMBER: An access permit.
MS. RAYMOND: It's an access permit, okay. I know that the department would very much like to see some coordinated approach to that, because they are finding that municipalities will grant building permits where it is impossible for the province to grant an access permit and that may be the root of some of the problem. That may be some of the Chebucto Head problem as well but be that as it may, the houses are there, they have been there for some 40 years now and those households have, in fact, depended upon that road so they have a question as to what is going to happen. The municipality says they will not take on that road in that condition. They are still living there.
At West Pennant, as well, I don't think there is any question about this one but I feel obliged to mention it. The Department of Transportation and Public Works very promptly replaced the railings on the bridge at West Pennant some three years ago. Unfortunately, within three weeks, the same Department of Transportation and Public Works plowed the railings right back off again and that was three years ago.
AN HON. MEMBER: The wing plow.
MS. RAYMOND: Yes, that would be the wing plow, so I feel it necessary to register that unfortunately that work does need to be repeated.
The main question that I would have is what exactly is to be happening? Is there a deadline? Is there a point at which the residents of the outlying areas of Halifax Atlantic can expect that the negotiations will either be concluded about capital district transportation or, in fact, will there be a proper negotiation quite simply of the road responsibilities? We don't necessarily have to go the whole hog and have this transportation authority but we do need, at least in the interim, for there to be some review of the responsibilities and somebody needs to take them on at this point.
My question would be is there a cut-off point at which, if there are no conclusions reached with the Capital Transportation Authority, will there be, at least, some conclusions reached with regard to the many outlying roads of Halifax and Halifax Atlantic?
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, that is an excellent question and I will try to give you an adequate answer. The Capital Region Transportation Authority Act, which is still on the order paper, is not going to progress. It's going to eventually die there. That, to some extent, is unfortunate because it would resolve the problems that the member so rightfully brings to the House this morning. HRM, at the present time, has a standard of Winter maintenance that is different to that of the Department of Transportation and Public Works. It is actually a higher standard than we have.
When we had some discussions with HRM with regard to the transfer of the roads, the complete road package within the HRM perimeter, it was based on certain revenues that would become available to HRM primarily from the bridges. So it would be quid pro quo. They were basing the transfer of those roads that the province had to HRM based on the costs of the HRM maintenance schedule rather than the provincial, so there was a deficit and there was a bit of an argument, obviously, as to what the eventual costs would be. But nevertheless, we were moving in that direction, which would be to the advantage of not only this honourable member, but to several members in the House who presently have roads in their riding shared between municipal responsibility and provincial responsibility. There is
nothing worse than getting a call about a road that the province is not looking after and then finding out that we don't have to look after it anyway, it belongs to HRM.
We know which roads are which, but unfortunately there is no order to them. In other words, you can't say, well, in this particular area they are all provincial, over here they are all HRM. It doesn't work that way. They are all scrambled together and that makes people really mad because they see a snowplow go whistling by to plow a road down there and they go right by maybe two or three roads here that are the HRM's responsibility and they say, well, why can't the plow stop and do our roads? It makes perfect common sense. I'm happy to tell you that the talks have not broken down, they are continuing, and we would hope to get a resolution fairly shortly. However, when I say that, we could probably do it a chunk at a time now rather than doing the whole enchilada. So it's going to take a little bit longer than it would have under the bill that we had proposed.
I can advise the honourable member that we recognize there is a problem. HRM recognizes there is a problem. We are both determined that we are going to work something out and we are moving in that direction.
MS. RAYMOND: Mr. Minister, it certainly makes a lot of sense to me that it be done, I assume a geographical chunk at a time, and that way we can get things moving. I'm very pleased to hear that and I would hope that those chunks can be worked out within the next year or so. It's not only Winter maintenance, it's also the grading and the dust, I guess it is, that mounts the sides of the guardrails here and there, that sort of thing.
I know that my colleague beside me is very anxious to speak to you as well, so perhaps I ought to leave off here, but I do have one very quick question and it's around ferry landings, public ferries throughout the province. Does the Department of Transportation have a policy of maintaining ferry landings, of subsidizing ferries, or of not doing so at this point anywhere within the province? What is the status of ferry transportation in the province?
MR. RUSSELL: I presume the honourable member is speaking about ferries run by the Department of Transportation and Public Works. We do subsidize them and it's a very costly business, actually. I think it's $5.5 million a year that the ferries cost and we get back about $1 million? (Interruption) It costs about $6.5 million for the ferry services. We get back about $5 million from the public who use the ferries so it's quite expensive. The maintenance of the docking facilities essentially belongs to the Department of Transportation and Public Works and we do, indeed, maintain them. There are some, for instance the Tancook ferry, we don't own all the wharves; however, the ones that we do own, we maintain and provide the capital construction costs when needed.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, I want to go back to the minister. We were discussing earlier in the morning about the fairness of allocation of work around the province into different ridings and I would just like to ask about your capital spending, riding by riding. Is it allocated on a proportional basis, according to the number of roads that are in the constituency, or is it allocated by constituency per se? What are the criteria and is it possible, Mr. Minister, that you could table with the House the capital spending that is going to be done in each of the ridings in Nova Scotia this year?
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, that's a very good question that the honourable member has brought forward and it's one that is asked, I think, every year. I hope I can give, perhaps a better answer than I gave last year. First of all, our number one allocation of funding is to the 100-Series Highways. The reason for that is because our 100-Series Highways are in good condition and these are the sinews that our imports and exports from the province depend on. We don't have trains anymore, practically everything travels by truck and those trucks essentially travel on the 100-Series Highways, so the money is allocated not by riding but they are allocated by highways. About $45 million of our capital budget every year goes to the 100-Series Highways and that's why our 100-Series Highways are in good shape and they will continue to receive that kind of attention.
The balance of the money then goes on to secondary roads. The money for secondary roads, under the capital program, are not allocated by district. They are allocated according to the priority that the department arrives at by looking at all the district's recommendations that come into the department. So we can't say okay to the honourable member for Halifax Atlantic, for instance, your share of the pot of capital this year is $5 million and somebody else is $3 million. It depends on what comes in from the districts and the allocation by the Department of Transportation and Public Works central.
MR. PARKER: Is it possible, Mr. Minister, to table with this House the tenders that will be done in Nova Scotia this year, regardless of which ridings they are in, on the province as a whole?
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, I can't do that until the end of the fiscal year. I can give the capital expenditures by riding at the end of the fiscal year, but I can tell the honourable member that at the present time, the amount of money that we will have is dependent on the budget and our budget, remember, is dependent on certain funding coming in from the federal government. So we are not exactly certain as to the amount of money that we will have for capital this year. We know what we have programmed to expend and the funding that I expect the Minister of Finance to give to the Department of Transportation and Public Works; however, there are things that can happen that can affect that.
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, I'm going to switch topics now and go to another issue. I understand, at the present time, there is a study being done by your department across a number of other government departments. It's called the steering committee for the supply
and distribution management review and I understand that this committee, made up of a number of government departments, including the Department of Transportation and Public Works, has put out a request for proposals to look at warehouse and distribution facilities and looking at streamlining and alternate service approaches. My information here says it's consolidation, streamlining, alternate service approaches, and looking at a number of issues.
I wonder, Mr. Minister, could you give us an update on that committee, how they are getting along, what specific services are being reviewed by the committee, what implications it might have on your present government department employees and when this report should be finished?
MR. RUSSELL: I'd like to say that's a good question, but in point of fact, what I'm going to have to say to the honourable member is that I'll get him a status report on that committee. I do not know, personally, a great deal about the committee. My department is a part of that committee. I will have to turn to Mr. Delaney for a moment.
I think the committee is just getting up and running, Madam Chairman. It's a committee that is looking at procurement, it's looking at warehousing, it's looking at inventory and it is a responsibility that is going to be shared among several departments. I don't know all the departments, to be quite honest, but I can get the honourable member a status report on that committee and if they have established a date when their report must be in by, I will certainly include that in the status report.
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, I do understand there is some concern among the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union. What really is being done here, they are asking to look at all departments and reviewing whether things can be done more efficiently or better. As I said, it references alternate service approaches so that immediately raises questions. Does that mean privatization? Does that ask if some government employees will lose their jobs if they are contracted out to a private company? As you know, Mr. Minister, under the contract the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union has signed, there is a section called the Quality Public Service Protection Plan, the five-point plan that protects civil servants from losing jobs due to contracting out. I guess I just ask that caution be exercised and while we are always looking for things to be done more efficiently, that there is some obligation to protect the workers who are there at the present time.
I do understand also, it's contracted out, the study that's being done, to Grant Thornton. They are actually conducting the study on behalf of the steering committee and they will be reporting back to the committee and from there the committee will be making recommendations to you or to government. Again, I just raise it as a precautionary measure to make sure that jobs in the Department of Transportation and Public Works are not lost to the private sector.
MR. KEITH COLWELL: Madam Chairman, on a point of order. It appears we've lost quorum again.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We don't have to hold quorum right now.
MR. COLWELL: Yes, we do.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: No, we don't. (Interruptions) There is a quorum now.
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, I want to turn to another issue, if I could, in the Supplement to the Public Accounts for 2003-04, on Page 197, if we could refer to that. In the list of expenditures for the department, there are a number of payouts to various towns in Nova Scotia. You'll see on Page 197, the Towns of Amherst, Antigonish, Kentville, Port Hawkesbury, Windsor, Yarmouth and so on. There are a number of expenditures there for various amounts, ranging from $5,000 right up to more than $200,000. Mr. Minister, can you share with us what those expenditures are for, and why there's such a variance? Could you just tell us what those expenditures are for?
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, the expenditures are primarily for cost sharing on roads, for utilities, road repairs, taxes, cost sharing on upgrades, those kinds of things, the routine business of the province, the municipality doing jobs and providing services to the department. If there's a particular item there that he wants further on, I can certainly provide it to him.
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, the minister is quite familiar, I'm sure, with the Town of Windsor, $206,178, the very largest account of any of the towns that are mentioned here. Can you tell us what that expenditure was for?
MR. RUSSELL: There was a new school built, the Avonview High School, which is, if you're familiar with Windsor, back to the edge of the municipality, and the only access to it was a road that terminated at the hospital. They had to extend that road to the high school. It's the only access road, and the only way that you can actually get to that particular piece of property.
MR. PARKER: I guess I'm coming around to the government's policy on cost sharing with towns. Certainly Windsor and Port Hawkesbury and Stellarton, Bridgewater, some towns have done very well under this policy, but obviously not all towns are here. Is there a provincial policy on cost sharing on roads that go through towns, maybe a provincial road that goes through a town or village? If it's in the municipality then it's looked after by the province, but when it's in a separate municipal unit called a town, is there cost sharing with towns on a provincial road?
MR. RUSSELL: We have a policy now where we do not cost share on roads through towns. We cost share on bridges. We have individual agreements, I understand, with every town, probably, in the province for bridges, but not for roads. In this particular case, it was a road for access to a school property. If you like, it's a long laneway, but it's actually a road that doesn't feed any other particular institution except for the school. It was part of the school contract.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Minister, I think you indicated, when I first asked you this a couple of minutes ago, some of this was cost sharing. Was that cost sharing for roads? The reason I'm asking in particular is, as you know, I come from Pictou West, and the Town of Pictou has a road that they feel should be cost shared. If there is a policy in the province that you cost share with some towns, then it, too, should be cost shared. It's a provincial road, it goes right through the town. So are some of these expenditures for cost sharing of roads in other towns?
MR. RUSSELL: I would say the answer is no, we do not cost share on town roads.
MR. PARKER: How much time do I have left, Madam Chairman?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have two minutes.
MR. PARKER: Another issue I want to raise is it has come to my attention that there are some Department of Transportation and Public Works vehicles, Winter equipment vehicles, that are having some problems with weight, with front axles being too heavy, the weight limits are over what they should be, and they're not able to do the job they should be, the snowplows and the sanding equipment. It could be a dangerous situation, and many of the trucks that are out there have been overweight. They've been weighed and they're more than they should be.
The cost replacement on that can be very expensive. There are dozens of Winter vehicles out there. I understand the manufacturer has been contacted, but somebody has to ante up for the cost of repairing these vehicles. They're either dangerous because they're overweight or there's quite an expense here to repair them. My question is, how did this come to be, and who's going to pay for the cost to modify these front axles?
MR. RUSSELL: We're going to have to do it, and we're going to have to pay for it. The problem is with the front axles, the cost of the remediation for the problem, I don't know (Interruptions) We're just reviewing the problem. At the moment we do not have a substantive number that I could pass on to the honourable member.
MR. PARKER: Well, it could be a whole lot of money, it could be quite expensive. I don't know - there are dozens of vehicles out there. It's going to cost thousands, maybe $1 million or more, I don't know. Is that money going to come from within the department, or
are you going to go back after the manufacturer? Who's going to pay for it? Is it going to cost jobs, or is it going to cost other equipment in the province?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time allotted has expired. The minister can answer.
MR. RUSSELL: The fault doesn't lie with the manufacturer of the truck, it's the equipment that we add onto the truck after we purchase the chassis. We still do, I presume, the wings and the front plows, et cetera, out at Miller Lake. So it's a modification that will probably be done out there. That work that was done out there contributed to the additional weight on the front axle.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Madam Chairman, I have a few questions for the minister. It shouldn't be too difficult for the minister, because I know he has been on top of a number of issues in my constituency. On behalf of the residents in Cape Breton West, we'd certainly like to extend our appreciation in that regard. As the minister may be aware, I attended a meeting at Marion Bridge last evening with some members of his staff. There are some pockets of concern, certainly. In Cape Breton West, the Marion Bridge Highway is a name that I understand the minister raised yesterday during his opening remarks.
We certainly appreciate being on the radar screen. Some residents have suggested a rather novel way that the minister might be able to generate some additional revenue for his department to be able to fix the roads, and that is that they start charging for a navigator's licence because some of the roads are so bad, you really need to have a navigator's licence to be able to negotiate some of the bumps and the holes and the ruts and everything else on the Marion Bridge Highway.
That having been said, the tenders have been called for the first section, and that's certainly appreciated. That point was very well made last evening. However, some of the senior residents in the community, actually close to 150 who attended, were pretty much unanimous in the query as to why they started on the Marion Bridge end, which is not as bad as the Sydney end of the Marion Bridge Highway, which is absolutely unbearable. You cannot drive any more than 200 feet on one side of the road at any particular point in time for almost a five-kilometre stretch. My question to the minister is, is there any plan or any hope at all of accelerating the tender call for the next section of that particular piece of highway to deal with the most severe state of the Marion Bridge Highway, which is commonly referred to as Highway No. 327?
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, we're doing approximately four kilometres, I believe, in Marion Bridge, and there is another section that we will be taking a look at later on in the year. I can't make any commitment as to whether or not it will be tendered this year or whether it will be in the later tendering process.
MR. MACKINNON: Madam Chairman, I thank the minister for that comment. I know that the minister has received considerable correspondence from the residents in that area. It's quite vital. One of the points I made last evening was the fact that the department has ramped up its budget from approximately $43 million six years ago to $142.2 million, I believe, this year. Certainly that helps to deal with the highway deficit. I know that the Black Brook Bridge, all indications are that will be completed this year. I hope it will. I think it has been three, maybe four years in the making. I would ask for some confirmation on that. It will be, okay. That's great news.
As well, I'm not sure about the John Joe Gillis Bridge on Northside East Bay. I believe there was some remedial work done there last year, just to deal with the collapsing of that particular bridge and maybe, perhaps moving the Bailey Bridge from Leitches Creek over to that area until a new bridge was built. Could the minister give us some indication as to what the status of that is?
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, that is a panel bridge, which is a temporary bridge but certainly panel bridges are, to some extent, perfectly satisfactory to meet most traffic conditions. There will be a permanent structure put in place to replace that panel bridge. Again, I'm unable to give the member reassurance that it will be done this year; in fact, I'm pretty sure it probably won't be. Possibly next year or the year after, somewhere in that area, we can look at taking out the panel bridge and putting in a permanent structure.
MR. MACKINNON: Madam Chairman, at least I can tell residents not to get their hopes up if they see some remedial interim work there, at least they'll know. That's one thing I have to say and I have to compliment the residents in Cape Breton West, in all 33 communities, they may not be happy with your answer but at least if you give them a straight answer, they'll appreciate it. That's the most important thing. I know a few years ago, when I asked the minister about the Marion Bridge Highway, he was very candid and said the answer was no, there would be no tenders. That was in the year 2000. Well, it's five years later, but at least we're making progress. It's not quite as fast as we would like, but at least we're getting there.
Another issue - well, actually, there are two other issues of concern. One is a similar-type highway, and it's one that I know senior staff in this department are very familiar with, and that is the Main-à-Dieu Highway. This Winter, for example, it was the first year that the department opted to go with privatization of snowplowing and ice removal services. That did not work out well. In fact, after a series of storms, and one heavy storm had occurred, the snow removal servicing was so inadequate compared to what the department staff would do that after this particular storm, I believe there were four, perhaps five Department of Transportation and Public Works snow removal vehicles, trucks and plows, that had to go
out for a two-day period just to bring the roads through Main-à-Dieu, Bateston, Baleine, Little Lorraine and part of the Mira Gut area back up to an acceptable standard.
I would ask the minister, number one, is the plan to continue with the privatized service? If so, what action is going to be taken to ensure the same level or quality of service that the department has always been noted for providing in that area? Also, too, that road, I'm almost afraid to say, because if you say how bad the road is in one community, the residents in another community will say, well, you're not as concerned about ours, but it is bad. It's so bad that there are sections where you're actually driving on the gravel, because there's no asphalt there. The experts within your department, I'm sure, can make that professional advice to the minister.
Also, the Louisbourg Highway is the second issue I wanted to raise. That is because it is referred to as a parkway. It is the main thoroughfare or the main access to the Fortress of Louisbourg. That is the single most effective marketing economic driver that we have on that side of the Island at this point, certainly from a tourism point of view. We have approximately 140,000 visitors to that site in a three-month period every year, notwithstanding the fact that it's a very active fishing town, the Town of Louisbourg which encompasses the Fortress of Louisbourg, and all the other economic and social factors that are applied.
So could we get some sense of what really is the long-term plan for the Louisbourg Highway? I know I've written to my federal counterparts on a number of occasions over the last several years, actually three pieces of correspondence, and to date I have not received a response to one of them. But at least I will concur that through your department, Mr. Minister, you've been very quick to respond, albeit that residents don't always agree with the response, at least they're kept up to date. I bring those additional two matters to the table here today, and perhaps the minister could give us some sense of what the plan is.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the Louisbourg Highway is a highway that's of importance to the tourism industry, I would suggest, probably as is the Cabot Trail. Those two highways are extremely important to the tourism industry in Nova Scotia. Certainly the traffic on the Louisbourg Highway is steady year after year, and we recognize the fact that we are going to have to do some considerable work on that highway.
Again, unfortunately I can't say when that will happen. We'll take it under advisement, and I'll deliver to the honourable member, perhaps later in the year, an update on when we expect to do some work on that highway. It would be very nice, Mr. Chairman, if we could get the federal government to cost share on those two particular highways, the Cabot Trail and the road to Sydney, the Louisbourg Road, because both lead, really, to federal tourist attractions of considerable importance not only to Nova Scotia, but to all Canadians. Certainly any with a sense of history who visit Nova Scotia take in Louisbourg as part of their travel itinerary in the province.
With regard to the alternate service delivery and the remarks that the honourable member brought forward with respect to snow clearance during a storm, I think the storm that he was referring to was a particularly bad one that affected all of us in Nova Scotia. It was one in which a number of our local and provincial plows had difficulty accommodating the amount of the snowfall. The non-government contractors also had the same difficulty. I would be interested to learn from the honourable member exactly what this particular contractor was using for equipment and how big the area was that was affected by the supposed lack of attention.
To the best of my knowledge, those who are involved as private contractors under alternate service delivery for Winter operations have been providing a service that is equivalent to what we provide with the provincial employees. Certainly there's room for both. We intend to continue with alternate service delivery, but we do not intend to cause any disruption to our labour force. In fact, as I pointed out in my opening remarks, the labour force is increasing by approximately 100 people this construction year. I look forward to receiving additional details from the honourable member.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I believe the centre of concern in this particular case with this particular contractor, who I know quite well - actually, he's a very good friend of mine, we've done business over the years and I have great respect for his ability - is the equipment that he had used for snow removal and the like was not as heavy as the department's equipment. I'm not much of an expert on heavy equipment, only to suggest that what I've been advised is that his equipment is very light and when it would hit some of these ruts and bumps, particularly on the Main-à-Dieu Highway - because you could actually drive over a Volkswagen there and not even know you drove over it, some of the bumps that are there. That seems to be the issue of concern, the equipment is not as heavy-duty as the department's.
I also wanted to focus on a couple of other areas. Certainly I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the fact that the minister was good enough to respond to the concern on the Eskasoni Highway, calling for 6.9 kilometres earlier this year. That was in desperate shape. That's up in the Reserve area of the community of Eskasoni. Another point that was raised last evening, and it is a very good point, and I believe the minister and the department are at least attempting to address this particular concern, and that is - and it's a point I've raised in this House on a number of occasions - this policy position of a previous government to depopulate rural Nova Scotia.
Because of that, there has been a tremendous trickle-down effect on all these rural communities, in terms of commitment to providing the resources to maintain the infrastructure at a level that was acceptable prior to that period of time. I believe we see that, for example, in the Marion Bridge area, in the Grand Mira area, in the Gabarus communities and so on, where you see schools closed, where you see gas stations closed, where you see a lot of the small corner stores closed. That is because, by design, the policy was adopted to
depopulate rural Nova Scotia. It's a point that's extremely vital. Given the fact that 30 out of 52 constituencies in this province are rural, I would think that this would have a tremendous impact on all members of this House, one way or the other.
The policy statement states that the government's designing to have more efficient government by reducing artificial distinctions between cities or towns and rural municipalities, reducing the incentive to build outside cities and towns which impose long-term service and cost. Obviously the policy decision has been made within government to abandon rural Nova Scotia, by that policy document. In that context, I think it's important to recognize that at least the minister, by fighting to get the budget from $43 million up to $142 million, that that will start to address the highway deficit. That point was very well made by Ms. Baillie from the Department of Transportation and Public Works at a public meeting last evening, and by a number of residents as well.
I thought, in fairness, if we're going to be quick to criticize, we should be quick to credit the government for doing what's right. (Interruptions) Well, yes, it was one that I certainly had some scars with on a previous day, there's no two ways about it. But I'm back and they're gone. The issue being that the minister is doing what I think is right to help stabilize the lifeline in rural Nova Scotia by pouring money into these communities that need support. If that policy document or that policy position had continued any further - if you think it's bad in Digby-Annapolis, where the member there complains about the forgotten people, can you imagine what it would be like in another 10 years' time?
My plea to the minister is to go back to his Cabinet colleagues and ramp that budget up at least another $40 million to $50 million within the next year to two years, maybe even if you have to go for additional appropriations, I think it would yield tremendous benefits for all Nova Scotians, particularly on the argument of rural economic development. They are our lifeline, all these small mom-and-pop businesses along these scenic coastal routes, whether it be the Sunrise Trail or whether it's Highway No. 107, whether it's down through Annapolis Valley. It's absolutely panoramic when you drive down through Kentville, Paradise and Middleton, all those areas, Lawrencetown. I lived there for two years, and I just couldn't wait to have a day off from survey school so I could drive up the North Mountain or the South Mountain, there were so many beautiful areas to go.
But these roads are in tough shape as well, and they've been abandoned. I hate to say it, but they were abandoned by the Liberal Government of the day. It was put in policy, in legislative form. Something has to be done, otherwise we're going to see a continual deterioration of rural Nova Scotia. At least the minister in this department - and I know it's being done in other departments - is doing something to turn that around. Party politics aside, credit has to be given where credit is due. So the government has to be recognized for that, and this minister has to be recognized for that, because if it's not done you're going to see a continual deterioration.
Since that policy document was adopted in legislative form, 13 out of 18 counties, municipalities, have seen a decline in their population. Five out of nine urban cores have seen a decline in their population. At the continued rate, it will get even worse, whether it be in Colchester, Kings County, down in Digby, Annapolis, Cape Breton, Victoria, right across the board. You cannot continue to rob Peter to pay Paul, because what Nova Scotia was built on is rural Nova Scotia, rural economic development. It's a lifeline, and yes, that's not to detract from the urban cores, so I wanted to put that there.
The minister has also clarified the point about the Capital Region Transportation Authority and the fact that that piece of legislation won't be coming back this session, and that perhaps is good because it will give everyone an opportunity to reflect on that. I don't want to appear as if the minister is getting an easy ride here because there are still a lot of issues to be addressed, but I do believe, in all fairness, because I've seen it in Tory-held ridings, NDP-held ridings, Liberal-held ridings, Independent ridings, or what have you, everyone is being treated fairly. So that will conclude my comments for today and I would encourage the minister, again, to go back after his Cabinet colleagues.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Does the minister want to reply to that?
MR. RUSSELL: I would be delighted to respond to that because indeed, I think all members of the House now are onside with regard to the fact that roads are important, that roads are an economic generator, that they're important not only to rural Nova Scotia, but also for the more urban areas of the province as well. We do have to have more money and more interest from the federal government, in particular, to the importance of maintenance and reconstruction of our highway infrastructure.
Certainly, as far as I'm concerned, I'll do my best to encourage my colleagues to give me more money, but I also recognize the fact that you can't take $100 million from Health or $100 million from Education. Some way must be found to get an injection into the highway system without affecting the delivery of those other services which the public expects the province to provide.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Digby-Annapolis.
MR. HAROLD THERIAULT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Minister. I would like to tell you, Mr. Minister, that I have great respect for you. I don't envy your job one bit with 23,000 kilometres of road to look after, 4,100 bridges in this province. Your speech last night, I enjoyed that, I enjoyed listening to you, you are a great speaker. (Interruptions) I'm not after a thing. But there are a few things I wanted to ask you about from the speech.
One was that you said approximately 60 per cent of the people from somewhere said they were very satisfied with the road conditions. Could you tell me where that survey was done, how it was done and who with?
MR. RUSSELL: It was a province-wide survey that was conducted by an independent company, and I'll come to that in a moment, and we do that annually. Every year for the past four or five years we've been doing an annual assessment of how the public perceives our particular part of providing a government service.
The survey cost us $30,000 - I can see that on the briefing note- and it was done by a polling service outside of government and 63 per cent of the persons surveyed said that they are satisfied with our highway system. That is the highest level of satisfaction that we've had since we've started polling. It has increased from, I believe, somewhere in the order of 55 per cent last year, so generally speaking, the public is becoming more satisfied with our service to the travelling public. Admittedly we have a long way to go; however, I do believe that the majority of people consider that we are improving and that we are trying our best to meet the desires and aspirations insofar as their roads are concerned.
MR. THERIAULT: It just seems like the survey that I do in my area, that seems to be the figure that says - especially the secondary roads in that riding - that it's not up to par, so it's just the opposite to what I heard and that's the only reason I asked that.
You mentioned that the gas tax was all put into the roads, the tax from the gasoline. Does that include the HST? How does that work?
MR. RUSSELL: No, it does not include the taxes, it's just the per-litre cost of the gasoline.
MR. THERIAULT: I also picked something else out of your speech last night and it was about drivers' inattention on the highways. I couldn't agree with you more. I don't believe cars kill people, I believe the people who drive them are probably the biggest problem; kind of like guns: guns don't kill people, people kill people. Inattention on the highway, I believe, is a big factor.
You spoke about the 100-Series Highways and the twinning of them out of the city, the twinning east of here. But Highway No. 101 from Digby to Annapolis you never mentioned. We're not looking for twinning that way, we're just kind of looking for a single one, we'd be happy after 30 years down there trying to get one. You spoke about increased traffic would bring a road up on the priority list.
We have an instance down there now, in one of the biggest fisheries in Nova Scotia, probably the biggest economic generator of this province down in that corner of the province, that we've just lost a ferry boat to our markets of the United States, where 70 per cent of that
product goes. We're being told now that all that fish and lobster is going to be trucked from the southwest area up through Highway No. 1, starting right away, to come to the Digby ferry to cross.
I don't know just how many trucks went across on that Fundy Prince, I could soon find out; I never, but I will. That's going to be a lot of extra traffic coming up through the village where Highway No. 1 is, where now there have been two tractor-trailer truck accidents just this past month or so, and it's going to get worse. I hear it every day, every day I get calls steady from people and it's driving me nuts too. So if you think I'm driving you nuts with it, I'm just echoing from how nuts it's driving me.
If this traffic is going to increase like that because of the lack of that other ferry, why can't this highway be put higher up on the priority list for that area?
MR. RUSSELL: The honourable member is certainly correct when he says he has brought this to the attention of government on a consistent basis, because he certainly has.
The section between Digby and Weymouth is considered to be part of Highway No. 101, but it's not a controlled access highway. We are in the process of acquiring the right-of-way between where the present 100-Series Highway terminates and goes on to what is essentially the old Highway No. 1 up to Digby. We now have pieces of that transportation corridor that we own and we're in the business of acquiring the remainder. That particular stretch of highway is part of the National Highway System. When it's built it will be cost shared with the federal government and will require an agreement from the federal government to do the construction.
At the present time we have an agreement, in principle, to extend the twinning of Highway No. 101, as you are probably aware, to Coldbrook. The next section that will probably be dealt with is the closure of that gap between Digby and Weymouth, but there is no tentative agreement, or agreement in principle that that will be done. However, it would be logical that that would be the next section because the section from Coldbrook further down, going towards Digby, the traffic there does not necessarily warrant twinning. That particular piece between Digby and Weymouth would just be a normal section of Highway No. 101, similar to the section that runs from Weymouth down to Yarmouth, a single, double-lane highway.
MR. THERIAULT: We have 512 kilometres of road in my riding and I would say probably half of those roads are dirt roads. These past few years it seems that they haven't put very good quality gravel on them. I know the department does have a policy of what kind of gravel goes on those roads. What kind of provincial inspection is done on these dirt roads to see the quality of gravel that goes on them?
MR. RUSSELL: When the tender is issued, there are specifications for the gravel that they must meet. There have been instances where gravel has been second-class and not acceptable, and the pits have been closed for use by contractors for the Department of Transportation and Public Works requirements.
I would like to do a long dissertation on pits and quarries but I won't. One of the difficulties in our province, quite honestly, is maintaining our sources of gravel. It's not inexhaustible by any means and certainly it's more difficult now to open a gravel pit than it used to be say, 20 years ago. We're more or less stuck with the gravel pits that we presently have and the exploitation of those particular deposits.
MR. THERIAULT: I've had it brought to my attention a lot and I've seen it personally, too. When road graders grade gravel roads, why do they grade them off into the ditches? Common sense would tell me to grade them towards the centre. We have dirt roads down there over the past four or five years that haven't been ditched and they're completely filled with the grading being done - the gravel ditches or the mud ditches, whatever is on the road, it's more mud than gravel. What kind of training does the department have for these people who do this to the roads? It seems to be such a waste of time, a waste of money, it just makes common sense that those would be graded to the centre and crowned. Is there some kind of training this department has for road graders in this province?
MR. RUSSELL: Absolutely. All of our equipment operators are trained and they must meet certain certification standards that we have established within the department. The honourable member refers to dirt roads, in reality, the only dirt roads that I think we have are the K-Class roads, and most of those are gravel as well. We would hope that the roads that come under our jurisdiction are gravel roads and certainly, it doesn't pay us to have the grader come along and put the gravel into ditches, that's not a very good use of the resource that we have and the investment that we have in the road. It does happen in the wintertime when a plow comes along and the gravel ends up in the ditch and then has to be dug out in the Spring.
If there's a particular road down there that is not being properly crowned, I'd like to find out about it because, quite honestly, that should not be occurring, the road should be crowned because that's just simply the way that you grade a road.
MR. THERIAULT: I could certainly get you the name of all of them, Mr. Minister. I won't get into the alders, but that loose gravel in the ditches makes a great bed for alders, it does. They grow big down there and they're still there.
I know we've had one road that has been contracted out, the Weymouth Mills Road. The people want to thank you very much for that, they've been after that road, it has been broken up for years. But also, on Long Island, there's a road there that hasn't been done for 50 years and it has been two-thirds done now in the past two years; I believe there's five or six kilometres left. It is highly used by the tourist trade there for whale-watching and the people are wondering if that Long Island road, the five or six kilometres, is going to be finished anytime before this Winter.
MR. RUSSELL: I know that road quite well, I've travelled it several times and it certainly is a road with a lot of twists and turns, if I may put it that way, it's an interesting driving experience. The road will be paved, the completion of the paving to the end. I can't guarantee it will be done this year, in fact, I doubt that it will be, but I would suggest that it will probably be done next year. It is certainly way up high on the priority list because there is only one road there, in reality, on the island and it is the only way that you can get back to the ferry, back to the mainland, so it is high on the priority list. I would suggest that if we don't get tenders out this year that we will certainly get them out next year.
MR. THERIAULT: They waited quite a few years for that road to be fixed and also the Weymouth Mills Road. I know it's a money problem, you don't have to stand up and say there's no money. Why couldn't the inner half of Weymouth Mills Road be started this year, the five kilometres, and then the other five kilometres put on Long Island, and that would finish Long Island, and the rest of Weymouth Mills Road could be done in another sector next year. Is something like that possible? Long Island was done in three sections, too, so I think the people in Weymouth Mills would go along with that if that was possible.
MR. RUSSELL: What the honourable member is suggesting is possible; however, the tender has already been let for that particular road and to cancel that tender involves all kinds of things, a reassessment and additional costs, so we can't do it at this stage of the game. As I said, you have a commitment personally from me that the road on Long Island will be completed. I'd like to be able to say it will be done this year but I doubt that, to be quite honest. However, next year it's there, it will be done.
MR. THERIAULT: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. I will turn the rest of my time over to my colleague from Preston.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Preston.
MR. KEITH COLWELL: I have some specific questions to ask the minister on roads in my area and some of them I have already corresponded with him on, and hopefully he's familiar with them; I'm sure he is.
The section of the Mineville Road between Highway No. 107 and the Candy Mountain Road is in a very deplorable condition. I know you spent some RIM money on it three or four years ago which helped substantially, but the road is breaking up. There were some very serious potholes in it and when your department discovered they were there they were very quick to respond, and I'll give them credit for that, to get them at least cold-patched this Spring when they were aware of them. There was some damage done to vehicles by the potholes there, as the minister is probably well aware.
I was just wondering if there was any possibility of getting that road repaved this year, or at least some RIM money spent on it so it's passable. The traffic in that area is growing more and more as they build more houses in the area. Typically, it's a well-travelled road and one of the only accesses to Highway No. 107 from Lawrencetown and in through Mineville to Highway No. 107.
MR. RUSSELL: The Mineville Road is the road that connects to the Candy Mountain Road and there's a bridge, I understand, on the Candy Mountain Road. There's a very good opportunity for the Mineville Road to be done this year, as will the Candy Mountain Road. There's a bridge there that also has to be replaced, as I understand it, and because the bridge has to be replaced we can't use trucks to carry the asphalt and gravel to do the section of Candy Mountain Road, so we have a bit of a conundrum there: which comes first, the bridge or the road? In that particular case, the bridge is going to have to come first. As far as the Mineville Road is concerned, I believe we'll probably do that this year.
MR. COLWELL: Thank you, Mr. Minister, I really appreciate that answer and the residents of the community will be very pleased if indeed you can manage to get the Mineville Road, in particular, done. The bridge you talk about on the Candy Mountain Road - and you actually answered one of the questions I was going to ask - is a single-lane bridge, as you are aware, and you did some work on it here a few years ago. It had deteriorated so bad that fire trucks couldn't even get across it. The department did fix it to the point that service vehicles and fire trucks could get across, and that was greatly appreciated at the time. It is the only entrance to that particular community and again, it's a community that is growing rapidly with new subdivisions going in. Fortunately, new subdivisions now are paved, so we don't have to worry about those ones anymore and that's a bonus.
The other one that you're very familiar with - and I know what your answer is going to be but I have to ask the question - O'Connell Drive, where it goes from the school to Highway No. 7. Is there any way we can get that paved without having to charge the residents on the road for that short section? I know it should have been paved when the school was built, but unfortunately it wasn't. I don't think anyone realized at the time how many students go there, how many school buses are there, and there is even some concern that because the buses ride reasonably rough, those school buses aren't the nicest things to ride in - and we haven't seen it yet - there may be compensable problems travelling over this
road when it does get rough. I do appreciate the efforts the department does put in to keep it graded, and putting calcium on it and all the other things.
The road is in good shape once the school is closed. Typically, once they grade it in the Summer and look after it a little bit it works fine. It's just the school traffic is beating it up so bad and there are so many kids in the school, so many parents, so many teachers and school buses, it really, really gets difficult. I know this is outside the normal process but this is an unusual circumstance.
MR. RUSSELL: As the honourable member suggested, I do know the road and the circumstances very well. It's a difficult one. It's a J-Class road and it comes under the policy for J-Class roads for municipal sharing. Unfortunately, some municipalities have taken the view that municipal sharing means that the residents with frontage on that road, actually pick up the cost that accrues to the municipal unit. In some municipalities it doesn't. The problem is also further compounded by the fact that the school is at the end of the street and the traffic to the school has to pass over the residential portion.
The Minister of Education has to be persuaded, I guess, to step up to the plate and provide the equivalency of what the residential taxpayers would be paying. So, as I say, it's a conundrum, it's one that we're working on diligently, but there are so many players involved in that particular piece of road that a solution isn't going to come forward today.
MR. COLWELL: I appreciate the minister's response and the dilemma you have with this particular road. Actually, we have never corresponded regarding anything past the school because there is quite a substantial subdivision being developed past that but sections of the roads in that area, although they're gravel because they weren't put under the new process the municipality has to pave all subdivision streets, are in excellent condition. If you were blindfolded and brought to the spot, you could tell where the buses go and where they don't, there is that much of a difference, and the department does do a good job keeping the rest of the road in excellent condition.
The novel idea of getting the Minister of Education involved in this, I will definitely pursue and I appreciate that input from the minister. I don't know if the Minister of Education appreciates that or not, but I do appreciate that. I will ensure that I send all the correspondence I sent to you, which was substantial in this regard, to the Minister of Education, to see if he can come up with some kind of solution. I know what his answer will probably be, but anyway, we'll wait until he has the opportunity to make a reply.
There's another one that you are very, very familiar with too, and this has been a long-standing, ongoing issue, is a lack of drainage easement in Theresa Court, Lake Echo. It has been an ongoing problem and we've had correspondence back and forth, and I know there's a tremendous amount of streets that you deal with and problems like this you deal with on a daily basis.
Just to refresh your memory on it, what happened in the 1970s, they built a subdivision and Theresa Court is one street in that area. They put a drainage system in and paved the road and put culverts in, curbs, the whole nine yards, which was unusual for that time in history, that there would be curbs. What has transpired because of that, the way the water came down, they dumped it into one manhole and the manhole just dumped onto the adjacent properties and then through there down to Highway No. 7, underneath Highway No. 7, down to a lake.
The problem has been, for whatever reason at the time, who knows, the municipality through the then councillor decided to put a pipe on the end of this drain - which really shouldn't have happened - to get the water away from a particular property. Because of that, everything at the other end of that pipe - number one, when they put the pipe in they never put a screen over it, which has been done since then. I don't know if your staff did it or the municipality did it but whoever did it, it was greatly appreciated to stop kids getting in because this is a big drainpipe, I think it's a 36-inch or 40-inch drainpipe, so it's quite big and children could have been caught in it. But that has been resolved and if your department did that, I appreciate that very much.
Basically what has happened is people's homes that never were flooded in the basement before, flooded. It put a tremendous amount of water down past the fire department and caused water problems with their well - actually, a brand new well - it caused potential fecal coliform contamination in some other wells, the way this water goes, and it just spreads out all over the place. Then, as it goes through - and I have the documentation to back this up, as well - it dumps into another manhole and underneath the road and across a property. The gentleman who owns that property is very irate about the whole thing because he has an approval to build on that lot and has had the approval for many years, prior to all this excess water being dumped on his property.
The way it is structured right now, he cannot build on that property because of all this water going on the property. The way it was originally, there was a minor amount of water that occasionally went through there and it could be dealt with. Now, there's so much water the lot is actually useless to him, to the point that when he appealed his property taxes some years ago, they put the value of the lot down to $1,500. Now a lot in Lake Echo on Highway No. 7 is probably worth $50,000, minimum, anything you can build on, so it has caused a real financial loss for him personally. The lot below him, it's the same situation, which is on Robina Drive, it has also caused some problems there.
I know this is a very difficult situation to resolve but if the water could be redirected, I think it would give easements through the properties to put it down through the properties and go another route, so it would eliminate all the drainage problems for all the houses in that area and below that area. I think - and I'm just going by memory here and I could be wrong
with this number - the cost for doing this, besides any easement costs you would have preparing the documentation with no cost to buy easements - I don't think that's appropriate - at one point it was around $26,000 or $27,000 to fix this.
The damage that has been caused by this has been just incredible, and it was, again, before the minister was involved in the Department of Transportation and Public Works that this all transpired. Is there anything we can do to redirect this water or work with the community? I have talked with the Department of Environment and Labour about it already, we've had water tests done on the wells and we're doing more, but there is a serious problem here. This thing has to be fixed if for no other reason than the health problems, never mind the drainage problems and flooding problems that it has caused people and their properties.
I have documentation to prove that these homes were not flooded before this water was directed in this area and there was actually a daycare in one building that operated for years, that simply could not be operated there today. There was a convenience store in the bottom of another one that couldn't be operated today because of the flooding. Is there any possible solution the minister might be able to offer for that situation?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, Mr. Chairman. This is a very unfortunate set of circumstances. This is an old subdivision that came into being in a sort of haphazard fashion and the proper drainage watercourses were not what the natural drainage system would be. In other words, in the design of the subdivision, they diverted water through different courses than the natural courses, and finally, of course, they've ended up with the problem in that the majority of the water is now being diverted from what were the natural watercourses into the man-made ones.
I don't know what the answer is, but what I will do today, Mr. Chairman, is I'll give a commitment on behalf of the department that we will take a look at it. I don't know, it may be possible to get the municipality involved in this as well, and see if there is a solution. Again, it's a very complex problem to resolve. Simply, there's nowhere to put the water today.
MR. COLWELL: I do appreciate the minister's response, and I know the minister, when he says he'll do something, it will be done. There's no question. The issue on the drainage is, at one time we talked to Mr. VanSlyke in your department, who was very helpful in this regard. He has been trying to do things, and he has had difficulty getting a surveyor to come in to do some surveying, to check the patterns that need to be done to get the water re-diverted. I can assure the minister that I'll do everything in the community to get support from the residents in the area as well, anything I can do to help the department get this resolved. I think that in this situation, everybody will win if we can get this thing resolved.
I will add, while I was regional councillor, I committed to $10,000 from the discretionary capital fund I had at that time towards repairing this problem. Now, I can't
speak for the present councillor, because it's his discretion where these monies are spent, but it might be something you could pursue again. There's documentation to back that up, which would definitely help resolve the cost and the problem. I do appreciate the minister's openness and willingness to hopefully resolve this problem.
I just have a couple of other questions, and then I'm going to turn it over to one of my other colleagues. I don't have much time left here. The aid to municipalities for subdivision paving. I know for a period of about three years, for budgetary reasons - and I can understand why you eliminated that program and now you have it back in place again. Could you just briefly go over what you planned for this year, the aid to municipalities? Again, this is subdivision street paving, so people understand what we're talking about here, where it's cost shared between the municipality - in this case the regional municipality - and abutting property owners, rather than the municipality through the general tax rate. Is there going to be more money for this as you move forward and try to continually improve your budget for the Department of Transportation and Public Works?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, this is a program which was put in place to take care of those subdivisions that were put in place before the requirement for the contractor to have paved roads in subdivisions. These roads are called J-Class roads. We initiated the program about two or three years ago, whereby we allocated $1 million a year, provincially, if it was cost shared by $1 million from the municipal units. The municipal units were approached, and each year submit to the department a priority list of their streets, listed in the priority that they give to those streets, so that we simply start at the top and work down the list. The program, as I said, is $1 million for the province. It is $1 million this year, and there's no intent to increase that amount next year. Following that, possibly, if more money becomes available, we will increase the amount.
In some municipalities, the municipal share is paid by the municipality. In other municipalities, the municipal share is assessed against those who have frontage on that J-Class road. We have no control over that, that is up to the municipality. We just simply say we will pay half, municipality, you come up with the other half. Whether they get it from those with frontage or whether it comes out of the municipal coffers, that really doesn't enter into the equation with the province.
MR. COLWELL: Mr. Minister, this has been an ongoing problem, particularly in the Halifax Regional Municipality, and I can't speak for any other municipality because I'm not familiar with their process or how many roads they have to do. When I was a regional councillor, the municipality did a study and proved that the cost of paving these roads - and they didn't change the policy by the way, unfortunately - is very quickly paid back to whoever is maintaining the road. A lot of the roads in the area that I'm familiar with are maintained by the Province of Nova Scotia. There are some roads in particular that are in very bad shape, gravel roads that have to be a lot of work. Mr. Delaney, who's sitting beside you, he very well knows those roads, because I brought them to his attention many times in
the past. So anything that could add to the amount of money that the province puts into that is definitely a bonus for all taxpayers.
A lot of people don't realize it, because if you have your vehicles struggling to maintain a road, that means that the potholes on the main highways that you really have to look after, or other money that you have to put other places, is being spent on these side roads that could be in really good condition and not take much time. I would suggest that maybe one of your staff could contact the municipality to see the study they did, two years ago now, to see what the break-even point is. It might be worth looking at putting more money into that program over time, sort of catch them all up, and maybe get a payback on it that's worthwhile.
Along the same lines, on that program where you have the $50 million in it - and I'm only going to talk about the Halifax Regional Municipality, because that's the only one I'm familiar with, and the others would be the same with the question I'm going to ask - where the province pays 50 per cent through the $1 million in the priority system as the municipality puts forward, which is a good system, and then the province picks up the other half of that amount, whatever it is for a particular road, it is my understanding - and correct me if I'm wrong, because this is something I really want an answer on, and if the minister can't provide the answer today, you can provide it to me later in writing, if you don't mind - that the province calls a tender on these roads, does the engineering work, does the inspection work, and pays the bill, and when the whole thing is all finished, invoices the municipality for the amount less the 50 per cent the province has paid.
Now during that process, I understand that you put new ditches in, new culverts in, which were originally put in when the subdivision was built, you do the engineering cost on the project, you do the procurement cost on the project, you do the inspection cost on the project, all those costs then are all rolled into the total cost of doing the project. So if it's a $200,000 section of road that's done, the province pays $100,000 and the municipality pays $100,000.
In reality, in the municipality - and I stress in the Halifax Regional Municipality - basically I perceive that as the people who pay the frontage charge as partially paying again for getting their ditches cleaned out, their new culverts put in, which is the responsibility of the province to do anyway under the maintenance program, and I understand that you have restraints in what you can spend, but those people, again, are paying for that work to be done and for the engineering costs and the other costs that go with that that actually the people are paying more than 50 per cent of the actual cost, because they've already paid for the property that included the road in front of the property, and indeed they might have had to pay for their own culverts when they put it in. So they're actually paying more than the 50 per cent share that they would have to pay if the province eliminated those costs.
Now I know it means more cost to the province, but I think if the ratio could be adjusted slightly differently to include the ditches and culverts on a straight percentage basis, because every road is different and I realize that, and the engineering costs and the inspection costs and the procurement costs that would normally be done by staff anyway, to put it on a more balanced basis for the people paying the frontage, I think that would help. Now that would mean that there would be fewer roads done with the $1 million budget, but some of this money is in your budget anyway, where staff in procurement are paid anyway, the engineers are paid anyway, and you would have to do the culverts and ditches eventually anyway, so those would be costs that you would have. Could I have your views on that?
I would also like when you give me your views to confirm that you are paying to put these culverts in again and the ditches in again, and the things that should be, over time, maybe not all at once, the ditches to be cleaned out and new culverts put in as needed, over time, anyway.
MR. RUSSELL: It's policy when we do a repave, whether it is on a provincial highway or a J-Class road that the culverts are normally replaced, the rip-rap is put in place, the ditches are cleaned out and those things are done. It's not fair, however, to say that because when we do a J-Class road and we do those things, that we would have done them anyway if we hadn't taken that road as a J-Class road and paved it. In other words, what I'm saying is, Mr. Smith has his culvert replaced when we pave that J-Class road. If we didn't repave that J-Class road it might be several years down the road before we finally got around to replacing that culvert. Culverts last a long time but we feel that when we're doing a repave that it's a suitable time because we are ditching and cutting up in front of people's places, we're going to have to pave up to their particular driveway, if they have a paved driveway and all of those things, so we just might as well put in new culverts.
I would doubt very much that we could sort of extricate the additional costs that the member's referring to for engineering, design and the replacement, for instance, of culverts and rip-rap and the ditching that is done, et cetera, it would be quite complicated. I don't think there is any intention at the present time to take any action on that process. It's an interesting concept and one that hadn't been put forward before, but I don't think we're going to follow up on it at this time.
MR. COLWELL: Thank you, Mr. Minister, I thought that would be your answer, but that's fair enough. You are right, when you do new ditching, put new culverts in, that's very good because it drains the roadbed and the road will last longer, and it's a good investment, I'm not disputing that whatsoever. The fact is, as you have already indicated, eventually, if a culvert goes and it's one that was put in properly and it's not an illegal one that is just sort of stuck in by somebody, the department is responsible for maintaining those over the ditch area. Indeed, if it does collapse, like a lot of the old steel ones are rotting out on the bottom,
eventually the department would have to pay to replace these anyway. Basically, the people are paying for this to be done when the road is paved.
No one really complains about this because they're so pleased to get the road paved, so they don't complain about it but it is a cost that they're paying for that really should be regular maintenance for the department, although it may be over 20, 30, or 40 years, it's still there, so that is an issue. I would ask your staff to take that into consideration. I'm not saying pave less roads here, don't get me wrong, I'm saying we really have to look at the situation to see what can be done to help people as they're struggling to pay for all the other costs that they have with their properties and everything else.
I think we should go through when the culverts go in, I think that's one of the things that you'll find if you review the study that HRM did, and perhaps maybe the department could do a study on this sometime when they have an opportunity, to see that that's probably one of the costs you don't have to incur after that for many, many years.
I'm going to ask you one more question and hopefully, you should have time to answer this one. Why does the department still persist in using these lousy - and I use the word "lousy" - steel culverts when you have concrete ones and you have plastic ones? The plastic ones will last absolutely forever, they're smooth on the inside and typically if gravel gets in them it washes right through them, there's less cleanup, less maintenance and probably the price - and I've purchased some myself for some private property I have - is the same price, or cheaper, than the steel ones. The steel ones have a corrugated bottom that catches the gravel and once the gravel gets in there it holds everything up. Could the minister let me know if they have any intention of going to the plastic ones to reduce the cost so we'll have more money to spend on fixing roads?
MR. RUSSELL: That's a nice, simple question that I can answer. We're not buying the steel culverts anymore, we're into plastic and concrete - to a lesser extent concrete but primarily plastic these days. The member is absolutely right, the old steel culverts were cheap and nasty and they rusted out and also, because of their construction, they impeded the flow of material that was like sediment through the pipe, resulting in a deposit in the pipe and an eventual blockage.
MR. COLWELL: Thank you, Mr. Minister, that's a really positive move forward and it's even more so than that with the plastic culverts. The plastic culverts, you can actually take a machine and dig it out but the steel ones, as soon as you touched them, they either disintegrated or you got a tooth from the machine in the culvert and it was gone. So the plastic ones are a major improvement and I'm pleased to see the department is going that way. I believe you have a lot of staff in the department who are really moving our technology forward and that is very, very positive, I'm glad to see that.
The other question I have - and you won't have time to answer it today but maybe on Monday you can answer it, but I'll ask today so you can think about it - what policies do you have if drainage is put through a person's property off the road and there's no easement there from years ago when there weren't easements, though now I know that there are probably easements on everything that goes through there? What policy does the department use now to make sure the drainage doesn't cause property damage on people's property - this is not to do with Theresa Court, this is just a general question - and if those drainage systems fail and if people don't have the resources to repair the draining system that is there?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable minister has one minute left in Supply.
MR. RUSSELL: I think I can answer that in one minute, Mr. Chairman. The policy of the department hasn't changed. If it's private property it's not our responsibility. If we have an easement or right-of-way, then it's our responsibility.
MR. COLWELL: I want to thank the minister for answering my questions today. I know when the minister gives a commitment he means it, he'll follow through on it. On behalf of the residents of Mineville and on Theresa Court, we look forward to whatever type of solution you can manage through the proper policies and procedures you have in your department. It has been a pleasure asking you questions, so on Monday my colleague, the honourable member for Annapolis, will continue the debate in this regard.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for Supply on the Department of Transportation and Public Works has expired for today.
[The committee rose at 1:24 p.m.]