HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11, 2007
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order please. I call the Committee of the Whole House on Supply to order.
The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I'm looking at my time, and I know I have 27 minutes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, 27 minutes.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay, I'll go for 28.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll give you until 6:48 p.m., honourable member.
MR. MACDONELL: I want to thank the minister and his staff, and I'll say ahead of time I'll thank them for all the good things that are going to happen in my constituency - I'm sure there will be a long list and the minister probably won't be able to tell me it all in 27 minutes.
First of all, I guess one of the complaints I've made over the years - and I want to say to the minister that I think it has fallen on deaf ears - is the issue that I feel is a lack of staff in the department at the local depots or highway sheds in my constituency. We used to have three - one in Upper Rawdon, one in Noel Road, and one in Milford. Anyway, we are down to two, and we have been for some time.
The shed in Rawdon was closed down some years ago and the number of workers for DOT has been quite reduced in that period of time. Recently we had layoffs, in the last week or two weeks, so I want to know if that's something that happened province-wide or were there just certain areas that saw a layoff of some of the staff?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works.
HON. ANGUS MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I can tell the honourable member that every year it's a common occurrence. When the end of the winter works program comes about, there's a period where Spring work is not ready to be underway and you get layoffs, work interruptions of this nature.
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, the minister didn't say whether that was province-wide?
MR. MACISAAC: Yes.
MR. MACDONELL: Could the minister explain to me what the difference between an MOS and an OS is at the local sheds?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the work that's performed by both is similar. The fundamental distinction is that the operating supervisor has budget responsibilities as well as responsibilities for human resources whereas the maintenance supervisor doesn't have those administrative responsibilities.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Can you tell me why we don't have an MOS in Hants East and, can you tell me, do they have them in Hants West?
MR. MACISAAC: I can tell the honourable member that a number of members in the House would like to be in his position where he has two operating supervisors whereas in Hants West there is one operating supervisor and one maintenance supervisor - and I would appreciate it if you didn't tell the honourable member for Hants West.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants West is quite happy with that.
MR. MACDONELL: Well, thank you, I think the word is out. I guess I'm curious, is there a difference in pay scale for those two people?
MR. MACISAAC: Yes, Mr. Chairman.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay. Thank you. So there are no areas then, I think is what you are trying to tell me, in which there is an MOS working under an OS? They would be one or the other.
MR. MACISAAC: The relationship between the MS and the OS - the MS sort of acts as a right-hand person to the OS in terms of the work that is being done. You will have situations where you would have an OS without there being an MS, but I believe that anywhere there is a MS there would also be an OS.
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, it causes me some confusion as to your comments around Hants West which kind of made me think that the MS wasn't working - or the MOS - under the OS, that they were kind of two distinct job roles and maybe in two different sheds is what I was thinking, whereas in Hants East I have an OS in each shed. I'm not clear as to if an MS generally works under an OS, I guess, across the province - is that what you are trying to tell me?
MR. MACISAAC: It's the size of the base that really determines the configuration of the personnel. In the situation of Hants East you have two bases but they are not as large as the one base that operates Hants West. So in the situation in Hants East you have an OS stationed at each base whereas in Hants West, because it is a larger base operation, then you have an OS who operates out of there and a maintenance supervisor who operates with that operating supervisor.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you, Mr. Minister, I appreciate it. My impression, I think if my memory is right, is that I have quite a few more kilometres of road in Hants East than in Hants West, which would lead me to believe that I should have two sheds at least, which comes back to my contention of three sheds, which we had in Rawdon because of the time - if you consider the area that the Noel shed would take care of, which would be basically from the Goss Bridge I believe, in South Maitland, up to Walton, the Kennetcook area out and all the Rawdons, from Cheese Factory Corner out through to Hants West basically, plus Mount Uniacke.
I think, if I'm not mistaken - and I better not use the number because I would only be lying probably and I don't want to admit to that in the House of Assembly - but I do know, on checking with my area manager at one time, the difference in the gravel roads, and we just about have the same kilometres I think, in paved roads, in Hants East as Hants West but we had a very large difference in the number of gravel roads, or the kilometres of gravel roads, which it seems to me that we had pretty near as much gravel road as we had paved road in Hants East. Maybe your chief engineer can tell you because he was my area manager some time ago, which makes me think that because of the area we definitely should have more staff because in the Windsor and the Hants West area, the Town of Windsor would do some and I think Hantsport, or maybe Falmouth, would do some of their own roads as well. So maybe the minister can explain. Does the Town of Windsor take care of its own roads or does the province?
MR. MACISAAC: The Town of Windsor looks after its own roads.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I just want to relay some concerns. I was out to Cox Brothers Poultry Farm in Stirling Brook, which is just heading west I guess, from Maitland, and this operation, they produce eggs, and they hatch - I'm going to forget the number, but my thought tells me, 100,000 chicks, and I was going to say weekly, but I might be wrong on that, but we're talking a lot, and the complaint they were getting actually was twofold, that some of the people who purchase eggs from them, they would send a truck for that and they were complaining about the amount of cracked eggs they got travelling over that road.
I want to inform the minister, if he's not aware, that this section of Route 215 is part of the Glooscap Trail, and I would assume if we're going to promote this to the public to travel over these roads that we would be concerned about the condition of these roads, especially on tourist routes. So I'm trying to seek some information as to whether anyone can tell me if they know of a plan to do any sections of Route 215, as far as upgrading, repaving, whatever the case may be.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I can indicate to the honourable member that we are, in fact, doing two sections, one in Route 354 and the other in Route 214. Perhaps that's something we can keep in mind for another year, unless the honourable member wants me to switch one of those this year - we're open to suggestions.
MR. MACDONELL: Well I think my first suggestion would be to do more, not change the ones you've already seen fit to do. I've got to say, when you're an Opposition member, any pavement is good pavement. I don't usually go splitting hairs with the government - if they pick a road, I'm usually willing to accept it.
I want to say that I should go on the record and say to the minister, thanks, I appreciate those two sections being done, and I know the people really do appreciate it. Definitely, if you want to think about another year - I kind of think that this is probably a little far down the road and I think the tenders have actually been awarded for those jobs maybe, so I can see that would cause some problems, but definitely for the future.
I think I gave the minister a list the last time we met, Routes 215, 236, 202, the Trunk 2 highway through the corridor is one - I was really hoping to get more attention to the Hants North area of my constituency where I feel the roads are worse, and so I haven't heard much complaint, but I know through the corridor with the volume of traffic this is going to be an issue. The Trunk 14 highway, from the Trunk 2 highway in Milford, that intersection heading out through Hardwood Lands to Nine Mile River, that's a section that hasn't been done and so I'm just curious if that has come on the minister's radar screen from anybody as to when that might be done. It's the only section I know of, I think - I might be wrong - on the Trunk
14 highway right through Windsor toward Chester that hasn't been repaved. I'm thinking even the department would be interested in getting that off the list.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I believe that the department does recognize there are a lot of challenging pieces of road in the honourable member's riding, and we are attempting to address those - obviously not as rapidly as the honourable member would like, but I haven't a member of the House yet who has said to me that you've really done enough, minister, we don't need any more. I haven't reached that stage yet, but we're doing our best.
MR. MACDONELL: I want to thank the minister. I guess my only concern is my remotest ancestor, who came from Scotland in 1790, lived to be 104 and I'm not sure that if I make it that long it will be long enough to see all my roads taken care of in Hants East, so I'm a little concerned.
One of the gentlemen on Route 202, or what I would call the Valley Road in West Gore, he called me - Route 354 is being done and Trunk 14 was done through Rawdon - and he said I got good roads around me, but I just can't get to them. So, there are some of these other roads that are issues.
Before I leave the Trunk 14 highway from Milford to Nine Mile River, and I don't know if the minister will remember, but last year I drew a diagram for the minister and I know his chief engineer probably explained it, but it was around the speed signage coming down the hill on Trunk 14 to the Trunk 2 highway - actually, when you come off Highway No. 102, come on the ramp onto the Trunk 14 highway there's a sign there that says 70 kilometres and then underneath it is a 55 kilometres nailed below the 70 kilometres, or the next one says hidden driveway and then it says 55 kilometres.
The department tells me that's a suggestion - you're coming into a blind crest and there's a hidden driveway and they're suggesting that in this 70- kilometre zone you should go 55 kilometres, and then as you proceed you come to a stop sign. It seems to me that if they're suggesting you go 55 kilometres, they're not suggesting you speed up to 70 kilometres before you get to the stop sign.
I've tried to make an argument that that section should be 50 kilometres. So I know I asked this last year and the minister definitely stated the staff would look into this - and I think I even called the chief engineer at some point and asked whatever happened with that. He said he didn't forget, but I didn't get a response as to exactly what happened with my request. Anyway, I guess this is probably as appropriate a time as any to say I'm assuming you're not going to reduce that speed, so can you give me a reason - or if you are going to reduce it, could you tell me that?
MR. MACISAAC: I do recall the honourable member raising this issue with me. I can tell you my chief engineer is quite familiar with the situation and did, in fact, investigate
the circumstance on Trunk 14 and didn't feel that there was sufficient reason to do the reduction that is being suggested by the honourable member on Trunk 14, but in the course of doing that investigation he did find that there was an appropriate reason to reduce the speed limit on the Trunk 2 highway, so the honourable member got results - not quite the results he was looking for, but he did get results.
Mr. Chairman, I just want to let the honourable member know that he made reference to living to 104 to get all of the work done. I have to tell him now that the last four years of that he's on his own, I don't intend to be here.( Laughter)
MR. MACDONELL: I won't ask what you mean by in what capacity you don't expect to be here.
If you're looking at speed reductions on the Trunk 2 highway, then I've had some requests through the Village of Lantz, people would like to have a speed reduction there, if that fits. I think in Elmsdale and Enfield it's 50 kilometres, but I think it increases in Lantz and comes to an 80-kilometre per hour zone when you start into Milford - up Ross's Hill we call it. I know people they are looking for a speed reduction. There are no sidewalks in Lantz right now and I think that's part of the reason.
I want to draw the minister's attention to something I raised before and I'm curious as to where it's going. I think last year the minister, and I might be wrong on this, but I thought I was told that there was a six-wheel drive truck coming to Hants East, and I think it was issues around Highway 215 a couple of years back where there was heavy drifting and the plows couldn't plow it, but I was told there was a six-wheel drive on order - I didn't even know there was such a thing - anyway this is two years now that I've been told that, so does anybody know, did that truck ever get built or what may have happened to it in the time since I asked?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I'll have to get back to you on that, I don't have that information at my fingertips.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I would appreciate that. I know I was told that, I didn't dream it.
There is a concern I have and maybe the minister can address it on the more technical side, but it's my impression that the snow plows aren't built heavy enough to take a wing. When they plow my road, actually even the pavement portion of my road - I live on a gravel road - when they plow the pavement portion, they run through but they don't wing the snow back. Another machine has to come back and do that. Anyway, I'm curious because I'm thinking that the trucks are too light for plowing heavy snow and actually I've had some complaints over this past snowstorm. So I'm curious about the fleet of trucks and their ability
to do the job. I'm thinking that the trucks are too light to do the work, so can the minister respond?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, because of the wide variety of roads and conditions that exist in the province, and weight restrictions that are in place in certain roads, it is necessary to have a variety of vehicles. The honourable member is quite correct to suggest that some vehicles, which are single axle in nature, are light. They are capable of opening up an initial track on a road and those vehicles do go on and clear roads where the weight restrictions would be such that those vehicles could be used. We do have to send tandem vehicles, which are capable of handling the wings, after those vehicles, or put them on other roads full tilt. So, because of the variety of roads, especially with respect to the weight restrictions that we have, we have to have variety in the fleet of trucks that we use.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I just want to have some confidence that the trucks can actually - I mean the winging isn't such an urgent thing if there is a trail broken through. I was just concerned that some of the trucks were unable to break the trail.
I want to, in my last three minutes - this last storm that we had over the weekend, I got a call from a dairy farmer on the Tom Barron Road, and this gentleman's name is Blois Barron. I think that is off Highway 202, through West Gore. Anyway, Mr. Barron indicated to me that he had to plow the road with his farm tractor in order for the milk truck to get through, and he wasn't overly impressed.
He told me that in a previous storm this year it didn't get plowed. It had drifted in a few places and people kind of weaved their way around the drifts and were able to get in and out, but he said if it had been an emergency - his mother is 82, I believe - and if he needed an ambulance or whatever, that could have caused real concerns. I think the next day, after he had plowed the road out, he called the shed in Noel at about 6:30 a.m. and it was plowed at about 8:00 a.m., so I just raise this.
There is a road that goes off there, the Burgess Road, which he says is quite often not - well it is not maintained as far as he is concerned, in the first half mile or so of the road there are some houses but he said that beyond that there are woods roads that are better. He said he thinks the department should at least state whether they are going to maintain it, put a barrier up or do something so the people don't actually think that they are going on a maintained public highway, which is what that is supposed to be. Anyway, I just leave those comments.
If you have a response, for sure I would like to hear it. I do have to say that I think the department has made some strides on the quality of roads in my constituency - I don't want the minister to think something different. I have seen some improvements, certainly in the
Hants North area there is not a close gravel source that I think would make it a lot easier to get a lot of really good - well, I say Class A, maybe I'm wrong in what type of gravel should go on those roads but there are a lot of roads there that don't have great gravel cover and that would really please those people if that could happen. Anyway, I'll allow the minister to respond.
MR. MACISAAC: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, the first thing I would say to the honourable member, I would encourage him - and perhaps he does - to stay in contact with the local engineer with respect to some of the problems that he did identify. Again, at this time of the year we do reach circumstances where to put a heavy plow on a road could, in fact, wind up causing more damage than any good it would do, as a result of the Spring breakup in the road. Now whether that's the circumstance that we're dealing with here, I'm uncertain, but this time of year it is rather tricky to be able to deal with things like that, because you send the plow out and then have a road that's severely rutted for the remainder of the Spring, until it is dry enough to be able to fix it up - or do you allow, if you know it is passable, people to get by on it, especially roads that are very, very lightly travelled? However, inconvenience is never nice and I think that's what the honourable member is referencing.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you, Mr. Minister, and I thank your staff.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time for the NDP caucus has expired.
The honourable member for Preston.
MR. KEITH COLWELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have a few questions for the minister. I have probably not a unique problem in my riding, but in a couple of places I have some leftover drainage pipes from subdivision developments that I want to talk about now - and when I say "leftover", these roads were built and approved by the Department of Transportation some years ago. One road, I am not sure of the age of it, and the other road, the other subdivision would be in the 70s when the standards for drainage in subdivisions weren't as high as they are today, and they sort of didn't follow on past where the place was.
I have one area in Lake Echo where the whole subdivision dumps down through a gentleman's yard, and the pipe must be a 36-inch diameter where it comes out, and then when it goes through his yard it just dumps in his backyard and then into all the neighbours below him, including the local fire station. Then it sort of finds its way down through another property, and it has destroyed that property and the one below that one, and it has caused a big problem.
Now the problem with that is - and I know the department has so many things that they are responsible for now - that nobody will take responsibility for it, nobody. When it was originally designed it was signed off by the department. We have documents that show
the department signed off on the drainage plan and all that, and probably when they signed that off, in one case there was no home there, maybe right beside where the pipe is now, but below there, there were homes. So whether when the new homes were built at the time they redirected the flow - who knows what transpired? The problem is that eventually this has to be fixed - it has to be fixed. It has caused flooding of basements, flooding of yards, and there are small children in the area, so indeed it may be a problem. And I have another one in Mineville that is as bad or worse, and I'll talk about that afterwards.
There has to be some kind of a way that we can do a transition from where we are in a sort of no man's land with this drainage, and in the Lake Echo place, probably for a small amount of money - I know I had the department look at it several years ago and I think the estimate at that time to resolve the problem was about $25,000 or $30,000 to fix it and to get easements from the adjacent landowners to redirect the water and fix it once and for all, and that would be basically the end of it and almost no maintenance after that for anybody. Eventually, of course, the municipality will take over these places because I am just on the edge - I am part municipal serviced and part provincial serviced, as you're well aware.
There has to be a way to get these things funded, even if the adjacent property owners have to pay cost sharing, or something on it, to get this resolved. It is a major, major problem and it is not going to go away until this is redirected.
The one in Lake Echo is between Highway No. 7 and Theresa Court and the way it comes through - they extended it a few years ago with a steel pipe, and of course that's going to corrode and when that corrodes there's another issue of how is that going to be fixed - down to this point there is a completely piped concrete pipe system with catch basins and everything that you would see in a subdivision directed right through this gentleman's yard, then in the backyards of two or three other houses and into the yard of the fire station, and then it finds its way through, above ground, to a drain, goes down underneath a culvert that has been there since the 40s, that still works well, and so much water comes through that it destroyed another lot that was approved by the Department of Health to build a house on - that you cannot build a house on now - and then it goes down through and destroys another lot before it finally finds its way into a ditch and down to a lake which is not too far.
Is there any kind of program that could be put in place, or is there a possibility of doing these things on a one-off basis, get them resolved and then move forward? We are not talking about a lot of money here, we're just talking about getting the thing straightened out and preventing a safety hazard and ensuring that people don't have problems with their basements flooding and other problems that they simply don't need, that didn't exist before this all happened.
MR. MACISAAC: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the honourable member's indicated frustration in attempting to deal with the problems. My difficulty is that not really knowing the details or the history or the specifics of it, it is very difficult to say yes,
there is a way of addressing and resolving the situation. I can say that I would be quite happy to have staff look again at the circumstances and the background and review the report that they would bring forward to me as a result. So if the honourable member could perhaps, in writing, provide me with the location and the details, we'd be quite happy to investigate.
MR. COLWELL: I'd appreciate that very much. Actually I'll go a little bit further than that - I'll take some photographs and enclose some photographs and a list of the people who live in the area, their names and addresses and all that, so when your staff does go out they don't have to wonder who they're talking to or who is involved with this. I'll do a bit of the homework because I've been working on this for a long time.
When I was on regional council, at the time we had some discretionary funds and I offered $10,000 towards the repair of this, in conjunction with the department, to get the thing fixed long term. At that time the residents were willing to sign easements to get the drainage through their properties and resolve the problem, as was the fire department - and they were willing to put funds into it at that time as well. I will document that one and I'll make sure that I get that to the minister within the next few weeks.
The other ones I have, and these are the two blatant ones that I know about, and after we talk about these two I want to go on and talk about the policy on this because there has to be a way to fix these things that, for whatever reason, are there.
The other one is a little bit worse in some ways. There is a gentleman in Mineville and he lives in a really nice subdivision, and it's pretty level. He fronts on the road and the lake on the other side, and he found out about three or four years ago that he has this big drainpipe through his yard that he didn't even know existed until the ground started collapsing on top of it. Again, a steel pipe - which is not a very wise thing to bury underground - anyway it started collapsing, and that must be a 36- or 40 -inch pipe as well and, again, it drains the whole street, through a whole bunch of drainage systems, which is unusual in a county area at the time it was done.
He went to the municipality, figuring it was a municipal issue - that's not a municipal issue; he went to the province, the province says we didn't put it there, we have no record of putting it there so it's not our issue. Unfortunately, he's the third or fourth owner of the house and the gentleman has lived there for a number of years. When I first talked to him about it, I asked if he could find the person who put the pipe in there or lived there when the pipe went in. He's tried and tried and he can't locate him, which is unfortunate because that would probably shed some light on how this pipe was put in place.
I know he's willing to put some resources into this, but to replace that size pipe, probably about 300 feet of it, is really going to be cost prohibitive. It really needs to be replaced. Probably if you had a good plastic culvert pipe to put in there, it's down quite deep, it would probably last forever.
I can get you some information, documentation on that. I don't know, maybe your staff knows about that one, there's been quite a lot of correspondence back and forth on it. (Interruption) Okay, you don't. What I'll do is, again, take some pictures, get some information and forward it to the minister.
On this topic - separate from those two issues - I think the department has to come up with some kind of a policy to deal with these things. Sometimes people create them - and I'm not talking about those ones - some people infill things they shouldn't infill, and that's a separate issue. But if the thing was put there and the drainage plan wasn't continued - now there are not going to be any new ones in HRM because HRM is pretty strict now on drainage policies, which is good, in new subdivisions and I think that's very positive, but on the old ones that are there, and there are a few around that I'm aware of - and there are probably lots of them in the province - but there has to be some kind of a system the province can put in place or a program they can set up, maybe to cost share, or do something that you can get these things resolved, especially in a municipality that might be interested in taking them over, after repair, or in co-operation with the municipality to do that. Is this an issue that has come up before, that your department's been working on or is aware of?
MR. MACISAAC: We do wind up being presented with a variety of circumstances. They're very difficult to deal with because it's very difficult to find the origins, if you like, of the problems. For example, the Department of Transportation and Public Works is being looked to to resolve, in some situations - and I'm not certain whether one of the situations described by the honourable member would fit in this category or not - you have a few houses that are built and there's a drainage system put in place that accommodates the flow from those areas, but then after that you have subsequent development that takes place and it flows into this system that was designed for just a few houses, and after that there is some more building taking place
Now the department hasn't had anything to do with the approvals with respect to those building permits that were issued in other locations, so how reasonable is it for the department to be asked to accept responsibility of those situations which are really situations - and I think the honourable member referred to the fact that HRM is now much stricter than it had been with respect to issuing permits, especially around drainage issues.
I relate to this simply to say that we are an operation that works with limited resources in terms of the jobs that we have to do. Our capacity to be able to go out and resolve every difficulty that's out there is very limited. We have to balance between what it is we are responsible for and those items for which it's not appropriate for us to accept responsibility.
If you listen to the debates that take place during estimates and Question Period, or read my mail, you'll know that we just don't have the resources to do everything people want us to do in the province. For us to go out and take on responsibilities that are questionable as to whether or not they belong to us is something we would have to proceed with very carefully.
Having said that, we would be quite pleased to look at the circumstances to which the honourable member refers and see what responsibility, if any, or to what extent we may have responsibility in those situations and see if there is anything we can reasonably do to be of assistance.
But, again, our challenge is really a challenge of weighing the responsibilities that we have, which are clear to us, against those which people see us as having the wherewithal in terms of equipment and manpower and engineering to be able to address a problem - but whether or not we have the responsibility for that problem is another question. We don't have the resources to go out and take on problems that are not clearly our responsibility. That's the challenge that we face all of the time in assessing these things.
I appreciate what the honourable member is experiencing and, as I said, we would be quite happy to have a look at them, but in terms of our ability to formulate a policy that's going to address all of these problems that have some history to them which wouldn't in any way be a responsibility of the department, we just can't get into those circumstances.
MR. COLWELL: I appreciate what the minister is saying and I don't disagree. The issue is there is no policy with which to tackle these things - that's the problem. If you look at the problem - and in both of these cases - this one subdivision in Lake Echo, I spoke of, was totally approved by the Department of Transportation for drainage, road construction, everything. When it came to the outlet of the water, I think it was at the edge of the road where the responsibility ended and that was it. It was all over.
Someone could have built a house there after that, I'm not sure, and infilled - I don't know what happened there, but there are some residents around there who lived there that whole time.
The other area was the same thing again, a road that was approved and paved and actually had curbs on it, which is unusual in our area, and approved by the Department of Transportation and somehow or other this pipe got in the ground that drains the water off and now it's corroded. It drains the whole subdivision - and I know the answer to the question I'm going to ask, but if this pipe collapses and plugs the whole drainage system, who will fix it if it floods the road?
MR. MACISAAC: While the honourable member is totally familiar with the circumstances he describes, I'm not familiar enough to be able to provide an answer that
would be of any value based simply on a word description that I've had. It would be something that would require more investigation than that before I could provide an answer.
MR. COLWELL: I appreciate that. I don't mean to put the minister on the spot, that's not the idea. What I've been told in the past with other drainage problems that were questionable - let's put it that way - the department will come in, dig out the pipe, make the water flow free, and they won't put the pipe back in but they'll dig the guy's yard up and make the water flow away. I think they have the right to do that to make sure the road is passable and safe and all the things that should be. That really has to be the way it has to be.
The issue with this one is that if this pipe does collapse and the guy - this is all lawned over, it was like that when he bought it, he bought into something he didn't realize was there, that was the problem, and he is not someone that won't take something on himself to get it fixed. That's not the kind of person I'm talking about. Sometimes these problems are - someone creates it for themselves and then they won't pay to fix it. I've seen lots of those and those ones I'll never bring to the minister or anyone else in the department.
I was just wondering if there's a process or something that the department could put in place, not necessarily to commit funds to it, but when someone approaches who has this drainage problem, what is the process to go though? Does it mean that the property owner who is faced with this problem can go to the neighbours and get a standard easement put through so you can put a drainage through? Maybe the neighbours get together and do it themselves but under the proper authority with the department, and do it properly so it doesn't cause an environmental problem, or doesn't cause a construction problem or anything else. Then down the road if the department has to get in and do some maintenance on this, they can get in and do it with all the proper clearances, because some of these things I think the people would chip in together and fix it but they can't do it by themselves. So if there was a policy or system put in place to do it, it would really help.
MR. MACISAAC: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, as I indicated previously, it's very difficult to formulate a policy that's going to be able to respond to such a variety of circumstances as have been referenced by the honourable member. We do, as a matter of policy, investigate situations that come to our attention and we do an assessment with respect to the level of responsibility that we have and, where we feel that we have responsibility, we act accordingly.
Now whether there are other policies when it is found that Transportation and Public Works is not a party to the difficulties, whether there are other forms of redress or not, I'm not certain. Again I will say to the honourable member, we'd be quite happy to respond to the situations that he described for us and we'll have a look at them and see what, if any, responsibility we have, and find a way for us to live up to that responsibility.
MR. COLWELL: I want to thank the minister very much for that and I'll document these particular sites with photographs and letters and everything that you should need to investigate them further.
With that, I'm going to give the rest of my time to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Digby-Annapolis.
MR. HAROLD THERIAULT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, minister, for being here tonight and answering some questions.
I took note a while ago that the member for Hants East said that he had reports of a few cracked eggs in the trucks. Where we come from I would like to report that we have a few egg trucks with the frames cracked in them, and the eggs we eat are scrambled by the time they get there - so a few cracked eggs would be welcome to Digby and Annapolis, that's for sure.
I want to bring something to your attention - I don't believe I have, but I believe that it may have been brought to your attention probably through our regional director down home - it's about Long Island, and no salt. Long Island is approximately 15 kilometres long, and two times this winter the ice built up on this road and somehow there was a policy put in place that there would be no more salt on this road.
About two years ago there was an incident down there - maybe three years ago - it was when a former foreman was there, he's gone now, but it's called Freeport Hill on the lower end of Long Island. On top of this hill they dumped a pile of salt there, half as big as this room that we're in. It is on a 45-degree angle, from the top of that hill down, where there were four or five houses - still are - one is gone, one was destroyed so bad that they just tore it down. I believe the department bought this house because of the damage this salt did. It hurt three or four wells there that I believe is a cost right now to the department. I believe they corrected that by drilling some wells somewhere else, or a well, for those three or four houses.
Since that happened, somehow a policy got made on that island, or put together for that island, not to have any more salt put on the roads anywhere. Now this wasn't a mistake by your department, this wasn't a mistake of the people, this was a mistake of a foreman who was there who said to pile that sand on top of that hill, which anybody with any common sense would know that it runs downhill in rainstorms - whatever is there, especially salt.
Anyway, that happened. That's all right, it got corrected - I believe the department corrected it. Somehow a policy got made of no more salt on Long Island, so two times last winter, after the cold snap struck here and after the 15th of January, about an inch of water and ice froze on that road down there. It was cold, it was -15 or -18 for a long period there.
They put sand on it - sand only. I got calls from school bus drivers; I got calls like crazy from people on that island. So I went down myself, personally, and I drove on it. The wind was blowing so hard down there that when they put the sand on this frozen ice it was so hard the sand would blow off the ice - that's on this inch of ice on the road. So it got milder there a couple of weeks later and it disappeared, but they just kept putting sand and putting sand - they were dumping sand continuously on this ice. So it got mild a week or two later and it melted away and then back it came again.
Anyway, the phones were ringing again. I even called Mr. Larkin in Bridgewater and Mr. Larkin told me that there's a policy on Long Island that they had problems with wells down there the whole length of that island. So I started investigating and there were no other problems on that island - the only problems there with wells were where this salt was piled, which was a mistake by the person who put it there.
I should have brought this to your attention, but I brought it to Roger Larkin's attention, which I figured he would bring it to your attention, so maybe it was my mistake. It was only those two times that this ice was on that road. It was very dangerous - it was just like a skating rink because it was so cold that that sand wouldn't stay on there. They just piled it on night and day to try to correct that problem.
Is that policy going to stay in effect for Long Island, that it never receives salt again on that 15 kilometres of road?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, a couple of points I want to make - and one is that when it is as cold as the honourable member referenced, and as windy as he referenced, the same thing that would happen to sand would happen to salt - it would get blown off the road, because if it's too cold salt doesn't do any good anyway. That's a problem we have in certain circumstances.
However, the honourable member is concerned about the broader policy with respect to the use of sand versus salt. We did, in fact, have this discussion last year and we did, in fact, investigate and found that there are other areas along that road where there is a real concern with the use of salt and the wells that are along the road. So, as a result of that investigation, we have decided to stick with the policy we have. We'd be quite happy to share the results of our inquiry into that, but we did, as a result of your discussion last year, have a look at it and the result was that we confirmed to stick with the policy we have with respect to the use of sand over salt.
MR. THERIAULT: I would like to see that report and see who these people were, that there were other problems with areas other than Freeport Hill, because those people don't seem to exist. For two or three weeks I checked all around there and people called me,
but it was a safety concern just those two times. The salt was put on other roads on Brier Island, and Digby Neck above it, before it got frozen too hard and the ice didn't appear there, but this buildup of ice without the salt at the beginning of it - is it possible that I could find out through the department who else had problems with wells along that area? Because if that's true, there are people down there who are not telling me the full truth of the matter. I checked every house down there in a two-week period and there were no other houses that had problems with wells.
MR. MACISAAC: What we will arrange to have done for the honourable member is we'll have the person who provided us with the information contact you and you can compare notes in terms of your knowledge of the situation as opposed to their knowledge of the situation. I'd be interested to read that report.
I do want to clear up something that I referenced earlier, and the honourable member did make clearer for me the challenge of the buildup of ice having occurred as a result of no salt having been used there and creating a different circumstance than I thought about when I responded in answer to the previous question.
MR. THERIAULT: Thank you, and that will be fun to compare because I can't find those people that had any problems other than Freeport Hill, as I mentioned earlier. So that would be great if I could get that. If it's true, I will certainly approach those people again and correct it with them.
Personally, I would rather - I don't know how much it costs to put salt on our roads, but I would rather drive on an inch of soft snow than on an inch of slush that the salt makes. Personally, it's salt to me - but when that ice forms like that, I believe somehow you have to get rid of it.
I would like to talk about the ramps at Smiths Cove. People believe, and I believe, that the new Smiths Cove interchange in the Digby-Annapolis area, those ramps going in there, will be started this year? They've told me, but I've never had anything from the department that indicates that is going to happen - could you fill me in on that, please?
MR. MACISAAC: We appear to be locationally challenged for the moment. Perhaps you could give us a bit more description as to - is it Joggins that we're speaking about?
MR. THERIAULT: That's right, the Smiths Cove-Joggins interchange, the bridge was put in last year and it was supposed to be in two stages, it was a provincially and federally funded project.
MR. MACISAAC: That's right, and I can let the honourable member know that in 2007-08 we are realigning Trunk 1 - 500 metres at a cost of $302,000 is the estimate. Trunk
1, further realignment or grading, then paving and grading for 300 metres - yes, realigning and paving Trunk 1and building the ramps, and the total of that is $2.9 million.
MR. THERIAULT: So that will be happening this coming Spring, or this summer, tenders will be out on that?
I'd like to bring something else to your attention, again about ramps. The member for Clare and I both have brought this up to you, about the Cornwallis interchange which has eastbound ramps on it, with no westbound ramps. We brought this up probably a year ago and the response from your office was that would be in the planning stage soon. That was said about a year ago. All it needs, the dirt and the gravel is all pretty much hauled there, all it needs is levelling off and the ramps finished and paved. So, is that still in the planning stages or not?
MR. MACISAAC: Just to go back to the previous answer, when I indicated those ramps were being built and the realignment of Trunk 1 and the pavement of Trunk 1, that will not complete that interchange - there is still $2 million worth of work to be done to complete that interchange in the following construction year. I didn't want to leave the honourable member with the impression we would have that interchange fully completed this year, it's really a two-year project to have it fully completed.
The answer to the question he just asked me now - it is still in the planning stage and it's possibly something that might be addressed if we get the agreement in place, with respect to funding, with the federal government.
MR. THERIAULT: I would like to touch on RIM money. We know RIM money is allotted for each county or riding - I'm not sure which, that's part of the question I guess - is RIM money allotted by the lengths of road or by the amount of people in that riding or county?
MR. MACISAAC: We use a formula that is based on the kilometres of road and the volume of traffic that traverses the roads. It's a formula that we use that takes both of those facts into consideration. The money is allotted per operating division within the department - it's not done on a constituency basis, but by the division that looks after each area. I would just say that it is more heavily weighted on the kilometres as opposed to the traffic volume, but the traffic volume does play a part.
MR. THERIAULT: I brought up in the House not long ago about the section of road - the South Range cross with the kilometre of rubber that's in that road. That was done approximately eight or nine years ago. I'm being told - and I see it too, every day - how well that piece of road has kept. One good thing about it too is we have a lot of dust problems down there - 125 kilometres of dirt roads in that riding, and in the summer when it's dry, the old phones are ringing for the dust clouds, but on this stretch of road of one-kilometre long,
there doesn't seem to be any dust coming out of it. There's gravel on top of this rubber, but I think the drainage is so well under it that it washes the dirt out of it, which creates no dust.
Can you tell me what that cost, or do you know what that cost, to do that kilometre of road with the "junked-up" rubber? I know it was approximately 400 tons of tires to do that kilometre of road, which in the last eight or nine years has hardly had one cent spent on it - no maintenance. Are you looking at doing some more of these dirt roads with this rubber if we can get our hands on these 900,000 used tires in this province?
MR. MACISAAC: The cost of the rubber that was used in the road referenced by the honourable member was $6.30 per cubic metre, nine years ago. One of the reasons the price was as it was at that time is that the tire recycling depot was close at hand, so the transportation cost was not very significant.
In terms of looking at the use of that material into the future, one of the challenges will be, as the honourable member referenced, getting your hands on the rubber in a state which it can be used, and the cost of doing that - and I appreciate the honourable member's reference to dust on 120 kilometres of roads, I fully understand the challenges of dust, I have 500 kilometres of dirt road in my riding. I can show the honourable member lots of dust, if he wants to come with me someday.
MR. THERIAULT: Chlorides seemed to be a problem last summer. The local department said they were running out of it a lot and there didn't seem to be enough money allotted for it last year. But I've been told there are other ways to keep dust down on dirt roads. It's something the department knows, but no one else seems to know anything about this other material that can keep dust down - could you fill us in on what that may be?
MR. MACISAAC: We used to use calcium chloride a few years ago, but we switched to magnesium chloride because it is cheaper, but there doesn't appear to be any noticeable difference in the capacity of each material to control dust. That's the only difference we are aware of.
MR. THERIAULT: Similar to what you put on the road in the winter, the rock salt I believe it is, rough salt, and I've heard this - I don't know if it's true or not - they claim if you put that on a dirt road in the summertime, it'll slowly melt away into the dirt and also keep the dust down. Does the department know anything about this?
MR. MACISAAC: We don't use salt on gravel roads in the winter because of the deterioration that occurs to the gravel road as a result of the use of salt on those roads. Apparently the experience is that the use of salt on gravel roads is not a good mixture in terms of the integrity of the road.
MR. THERIAULT: How can salt hurt gravel? It doesn't seem to harm asphalt, so how can salt hurt the gravel? That doesn't sound right to me. There must be a scientific answer there somewhere for that one.
MR. MACISAAC: If you think of the circumstances and the use of salt on pavement in winter, there isn't any ability for the salt to be able to penetrate the pavement - it simply rests there until such time as the melting causes it to run off, or rain causes it to run off. It does not find its way into the pavement because the pavement is more solid, so there's no opportunity for it to get in there, at least for pavement that has the kind of integrity we all want it to have. But on a dirt road it's a much different situation because the salt would sit there and then find its way into the dirt road - it would actually get into the road itself. That's where I understand - and I'm just repeating advice I'm getting here because I don't have the science to share with the honourable member in terms of what's going on - it's when the salt gets into the actual road itself that the deterioration occurs.
MR. THERIAULT: I would like to speak about Highway No. 101 between Digby and Weymouth, the so-called 101 from Digby to Weymouth - the 100-Series Highway is not there yet, it's just the secondary road which is called the 101. I've had people say to me if we can't get the 100-Series Highway in here, which for 35 years they've been saying, and a lot of them are pretty discouraged now anyway, but we have a 90- kilometre speed limit on this road and as I've said many, many times before, houses and churches are 10 feet off this road, but it's called the 101 so the tractor- trailers that come off Highway No. 101 and onto this No. 1 highway, they don't reduce their speed. They're going 100- and 110-kilometres an hour going by these houses - the wind from them nearly ripping the shingles off the houses. How can the department, or what procedure do you have to go through to get a speed limit down to 80- kilometres an hour for that road?
Then, if it's still called the 101, most foreign people and foreign truckers would still probably not slow up anyway, because they don't now, but is there a procedure you go through to get it down from 90- kilometres an hour to 80- kilometres an hour?
MR. MACISAAC: As I listen to what the honourable member is saying, I don't think the solution would lie in lowering the speed limit. If there is a real problem with people not obeying the existing limit that's there, it's a problem related to enforcement, and that's something that perhaps the honourable member - and we'd be pleased to join him - might want to have a discussion with law enforcement in the area with respect to doing something to get people to obey the existing speed limit.
MR. THERIAULT: Speaking of Highway No. 101, is the final plan in place for Highway No. 101 to go between Digby and Weymouth? I think it's been realigned a couple of times. I believe a lot of the buildings and homes that are in the new alignment have been bought up - I know one was just moved off its foundation a week ago.
Could you tell me how far along that is, and is the alignment in place for that highway?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I can tell the honourable member that we have plans with respect to the alignment of Highway No. 101, but those plans are not finalized until such time as we have sign-off in the environmental process, the environmental assessment of what would be submitted. That has not yet been completed, so it's only when the environmental assessment is completed that you know what your plan could be because it has to be signed off by the environmental assessment.
MR. THERIAULT: This environmental assessment, how long does it take to do an environmental assessment? That's been going on now for, I would say, two to three years, the assessment of that 25 kilometres of area. How long does it take to do an assessment for a road that size?
MR. MACISAAC: Normally we're dealing with a situation that probably takes about two years to complete; however in that situation Environment and Labour have established a new set of rules with respect to the environmental process and there's some uncertainty as to whether that road would fall under the old set of rules or fall under the new set of rules, and we're trying to get that cleared up. When we have that cleared up, then we'll be able to proceed.
MR. THERIAULT: When the environmental assessment is done, which probably could be in the next year, would it be possible to get a date for that road to be started from Weymouth to Digby? I think you could probably even look 10 or 20 years down the road - is it possible to give a date out that far for a highway? I've been here three and a half, four years and I don't want to keep asking this question over and over and over, because I'm asked all the time - every time I go to the Weymouth-Digby area, it is automatic, when is the road coming? For 35 years it has been going on there.
Anyway, if I had a date, you know, say 20 years down the road, is it possible to do that, to set a date that far ahead? At least you could say well, look, you may not see it but it's going to be done, and this is the date that we have in mind - 2025, whatever, here's a little bit of hope for you to get those trucks off your back doorstep. Is something like that possible from the department? I know you can't look too far ahead, but there must be some kind of a vision there that the department has to finish that piece of road from Digby to Weymouth, because 35 years, you know - and the people don't let up on it to me, but I've just given up saying I don't know any more, I just put my hands up, but it would be nice to have. Look, your grandchildren are going to get to use this - if I could say that, that would be something to give them. Is something like that possible?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the answer to the honourable member's question is very much dependent on the money that is available. I feel reasonably more confident that
we would be in a position to give the honourable member what he is looking for, which is a date, as a result of the federal budget which did identify a considerable amount of money for infrastructure on the national highway system, and Highway No. 101 is part of the national highway system. So that is a road that would be eligible for money and it is something that when we have the agreement in place, we could then start applying the money and look at potential dates for various sections of roads throughout the province.
I made an offer to the honourable member for Clare to come in and have a look at our long-term plan with respect to the 100-Series Highways in the province and if the honourable member would care to join the honourable member for Clare when we do that, we would be very glad to have him.
MR. THERIAULT: So that stretch of Highway No. 101, from Digby to Weymouth, there is a plan there?
MR. MACISAAC: Yes, we do have a plan for all of the 100-Series Highways in the province, but the question as to when is a question that's dependent on available funding. So we can say that if this much money is available on a per annum basis, then these are the projects that we can do, this is the amount of time that it would take to complete them, and this is where each of these projects would fit in the total scheme of things, but it is all subject to the availability of funding.
What I've indicated to the honourable member is that if we're able to put in place - and I feel reasonably confident that we will be - a funding agreement with the Government of Canada, then we can be more specific about dates for projects than we have been in the past because we would know more about the availability of funding than we have known in the past.
MR. THERIAULT: There's a new winter works program that is going to be in place in this province this coming winter, I believe, for areas of high unemployment - this winter's work program, could that come under things such as cutting ways out for roads or cutting alders in ditches? Could this winter works program work in an area like that?
If that could be used for that, I mean we could put people to work for a long while down in Digby-Annapolis, cutting alders and cutting the way through for the new Highway No. 101, if that alignment is in place. Is that something that the winter works project could work with?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the winter works program would be the responsibility of the Minister of Economic Development. He would be putting together the criteria that would be applied with respect to the implementation of that program, and I will certainly pass on your suggestions to him.
I'm not certain that the program would be on the scale that would be necessary to go ahead and cut out the right-of-way for the new Highway No. 101. I don't want to raise the honourable member's expectations to the point where, if that right-of-way were cut next winter, that road would be built before the right-of-way might grow back in again. So I think we'd have to be careful of that - hopefully it won't be that long but I will pass the suggestion on to the honourable member. I do know that he has a mission when it comes to the question of alders, and we'll see if we can find some additional money.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The honourable member has approximately three minutes left.
MR. THERIAULT: Thank you. I just wanted to touch on size. It has been brought to my attention, from a local fire department, that they are going to need new signs for any time they're fighting a fire alongside the highway, that they're going to need these new signs that are going to cost probably $600 or $700 apiece - and this has only been brought to me by one department. It just kind of caught me off guard and I couldn't give him an answer of any kind, but they said it's something that the Department of Transportation and Public Works is pushing onto the fire departments, that they're going to need new signs to do any firefighting alongside the road, you know, danger signs, or whatever - does the department know anything about this?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I do know that, as a matter of course if you're involved in work that's taking place along the roadway, you do have to put out appropriate signage so drivers know that they should slow down and that work is taking place from the side of the road - regardless of who is doing the work there is a requirement to do that. Now, whether the honourable member is talking about fire departments are being asked to comply with that requirement, that might be, but we don't know of any new or additional requirements that are specific to fire departments.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Digby-Annapolis has approximately one minute.
MR. THERIAULT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
That has just been brought to my attention by the Weymouth Fire Department, to be specific. They were pretty adamant that they needed these new signs, I believe with lights on them, and the cost would be $600 or $700 apiece and they were just asking if we could help buy these signs. This is supposed to be something new that just came out, so really that's all I know - I haven't asked a soul other than yourself today about this because they believed it was the Department of Transportation and Public Works. Anyway, I'll leave that with you and maybe there's something there that we don't know about yet, but maybe they're just
dreaming this, I'm not sure. Anyway, it would be worth finding out. So with that, I will take my place.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Queens.
MS. VICKI CONRAD: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister and his department for giving me the opportunity to stand and ask a few questions. As I said a few nights before, standing here, I recognize the hard work of the department and the minister's role in looking at the priorities of paving across the province - and I know it's not an easy task with the budget not necessarily meeting all of the needs of our roads that are needing maintenance and repairs, and certainly capital projects must be an onerous task.
Two concerns out of my riding that I want to bring to the minister's attention - and I believe I have before in the past - one in particular that I would like to bring to your attention this evening is that of the road around the Bangs Falls area. If I could just read from this letter that I received from residents in the Bangs Falls area, along with the petition that I will table tomorrow, but I do want to read this because it clearly indicates what the residents around this particular road are dealing with - this was written on March 17th:
We, the residents of Bangs Falls, residing on the Medway River, request that some consideration be given to replacing or repairing the pavement from Route 210 through Bangs Falls and back up to Route 210. This route is travelled by two school buses twice a day, as well as many large trucks numerous times a day and the residents of the village. Due to the increase of traffic by tourists, hunters, and fishermen in the summer and Fall, and the use of the road by heavy equipment and large trucks, it is in deplorable condition. On the lower end of the road the pavement is broken in small pieces and spongy to walk and drive on. The rest of the road is full of cracks that the grass grows through, and gullies and larger cracks that make it unsafe to walk on, not to mention pounding a vehicle over it.
Up until this weekend when the roads were closed, there were a number of pulp trucks hauling logs and stud wood with all they could get on their trucks. This was night and day, with the frost coming out of the ground at the same time. Needless to say, this has greatly added to the deterioration of the road. The Premier of our province, the Honourable MacDonald, has stated on a news broadcast that every cent of our gas tax is being spent on our roads.
There are numerous people in this area who would like to see more attention paid to this problem. The longer our roads are allowed to deteriorate, the more it will cost to repair them.
Just a note. It seems that, when a problem of this nature is brought before the government in power, it is always the previous administration who is responsible for allowing it to take place. However, remember it is the present administration who will be held accountable for what was or what was not done during that administration's time in power when the next election is before the people of Nova Scotia.
Thank you for allowing us to present our concerns.
We, the undersigned,
Residents of Bangs Falls, Nova Scotia.
There are 32 signatures here.
I know that your department and you, Mr. Minister, probably receive so many concerns about so many areas of roads across the province. Again, I know the task is great, trying to budget and prioritize the roads out there, so this is with all due respect. This particular road, I have to tell you, I travelled it probably about three weeks ago and it will be the last time that I take the River Road until the Spring thaw is complete and there is grading done on that road, because it was just a dangerous road for me to travel on. I couldn't believe the condition of the road, but then I had to remind myself that the previous Spring the River Road was in just as deplorable a condition because it is a gravel road.
Just to give you a sense of where the Bangs Falls Road is - the River Road runs from Charleston, the Charleston Bridge up through to Bangs Falls which then goes into the community of Greenfield. So we have a dirt road that runs along the river and, when you hit Bangs Falls, there is a crossroads, and this is where this broken pavement actually starts. The Freeman's Lumber mill is just up from the Bangs Falls crossroads where a lot of the lumber and logging trucks would be coming through that road. It's the shortest distance for a lot of that lumber traffic or those logging trucks to travel, as opposed to going around the longer route which would see trucks go through Middlewood and then down through Liverpool and then into the mill to off-load.
Over the years, that road has not seen much in terms of maintenance at that crossroad section where these residents are bringing forth their concern. So I would like to ask the minister if he would give some consideration to this particular crossroads and, again, recognizing that there are so many requests before the department to look at. What the residents are asking for, they are not asking for necessarily replacing because they state in the first paragraph, either "replacing or repairing", and repairing is something that I think these residents would certainly be willing to live with until such a time that the budget would allow to see some more work in replacing that particular crossroad section.
I want to also add that this particular crossroad section at Bangs Falls at the end of that River Road is also where a lot of tourism is starting to develop around that area. There is a campground that just recently opened up a few years ago. There are a lot of kayakers who tend to congregate at that crossroads where there is also another bridge and kayakers from across the province and beyond will come to that juncture and go on a trek for a day or two.
So it is important that particular piece of crossroads there does have some repair, just for the excess of traffic that's happening there, and I would ask the minister to consider that.
One of the comments the residents are making is that every cent of our gas tax is being spent on our roads. If the minister could just clarify that for me, so that when I'm taking this back to those residents - could you clarify whether or not every cent of our gas tax does go into repairing or replacing roads?
MR. MACISAAC: To the last question first. I can tell the honourable member that we, in fact, spend $2.2 million more on our roads than we collect from gas tax and other related revenues. So that is, in fact, occurring. The honourable member, I know, spent time with the chief engineer and provided him with a list of priorities and we will be quite pleased to add, to that list of priorities you presented, the Blue Cross Road that you referenced here tonight.
MS. CONRAD: Thank you, and just for clarification, it's the Bangs Falls Road . . .
MR. MACISSAC: The Bangs Falls Road, I'm sorry.
MS. CONRAD: I know sometimes our mics aren't necessarily conducive to hearing exactly across the way. I did meet with your chief engineer and it was a very informative meeting and I have to say that the meeting with Mr. Stewart as well as meetings with local DOT, I'm just so impressed with the knowledge and the information they have shared with me so I actually do have a good understanding of what happens out there on our roads - not only for our safety concerns of residents, but what a task it is to prioritize and look at every major artery and every class of road and determine what the needs are. So I appreciate that.
Another concern that has been brought to the department's attention, and I want to take the time to also speak to this particular local issue and that would be the one of Salters Bridge. Salters Bridge, interestingly enough, actually starts at that River Road that leads up to this Bangs Falls juncture that I was just referring to. Salters Bridge is a small, wooden structure and it goes just beyond the main bridge that connects Charleston to the River Road, which is a Bailey bridge, which was constructed a few years ago after that particular bridge had collapsed under the weight of a logging truck several years back.
The Salters Bridge is probably - I wouldn't want to take a quick guess on just how far from the Bailey bridge that Salters Bridge is, but it isn't a great distance. That bridge has
been under tremendous strain over the last several years, especially with the flooding conditions that have been happening along the Medway. As I had indicated earlier, along the River Road there we see a lot of heavy traffic, not only with school buses, but also with the many logging trucks that travel through there.
The residents are becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of that Salters Bridge. In recent correspondence with some of your department staff, it was indicated there was a recent inspection done to that bridge. The inspection shows that yes, indeed, there are some repairs that are necessary - and if I remember correctly, some of those repairs would be replacing some of the side railing, but I'm not sure if there was any indication that there would be any repairs to the underneath of the bridge. What some of the residents are telling me is that the inspection needs to really be all-inclusive, as to looking underneath the bridge, because some of the local residents who fish around that bridge have had opportunity to kind of go underneath and have a look up under the slats, and they have seen a lot of deterioration over the last several years.
Now the importance of this bridge to this particular community in terms of a safety issue - and I know the department is investing monies into our bridges across the province and there is that inspection process underway - this particular bridge, should we see any amount of flooding in this area and should this bridge go out because of flooding or because a logging truck goes through a particular section of this bridge, it will actually cut off residents travelling from the River Road into Charleston.
I go back to that flooding situation, and in 2005, our last flood, there was actually a pocket of residents who were stranded in that area. They couldn't go further up the River Road towards Bangs Falls and Greenfield to get out of the community because the waters had risen to the point where it actually had sealed them off in one direction, and Salters Bridge was pretty much under water in some parts of that bridge. So those residents actually were trapped there for several days. So they have a major concern not only about the flooding conditions, but if the bridge is out for whatever reason - should a truck be too heavy and take out some of the main planks, or it further deteriorates - they are feeling that they are going to be stranded should this bridge not be repaired in a way that they are feeling really safe.
In my most recent letter to the department, what I have asked is if we could see the inspection report that the department has actually carried through, that it may lend some weight and go a great distance in ensuring the residents that a full inspection has been done. I know there is a set of criteria that the department uses, and if we could understand what that criteria was, then perhaps the residents would be able to say well, based on this criteria and the inspection that has taken place, this bridge meets all of that and so we now feel safe that with the repairs that the department has indicated we'll be okay until such a time that the bridge will either be replaced or further repairs down the road will be carried out.
Would that be possible, to get that information around that particular inspection for that bridge?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, we certainly can ensure that a thorough inspection of the bridge does occur and we will make the results of that known to the honourable member.
MS. CONRAD: Thank you so much. I'm going to pass the time remaining to my colleague from Dartmouth East.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
MS. JOAN MASSEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have a huge pile of documentation here and I know I'm not going to get through even a small percentage of it. Most of my questions will be directed around crosswalk safety issues and the Auditor General's Report from 2004.
Here we are again, at the same place we were last year, and I'd like to start off with a question around red lights. Last year the minister told us that, basically with respect to the red lights as opposed to amber lights, it is something that is being examined and we would want to come to a conclusion on that very quickly. That was said back on July 11, 2006.
Since that time we have had some very sad incidents happen at our crosswalks. I would like to know if you have made a decision in regard to using red lights, which mean stop as opposed to the other lights that don't necessarily mean stop, but proceed with caution. So if you can just give me an answer on that, it would be great. Thank you.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I can tell the honourable member that, first of all, the standard that's used across the country and in most of North America is the amber lights, with respect to crosswalk safety. The difficulties that are associated with the use of red lights is what a red light means - and the red light means that you come to a stop and you remain stopped until such time as the light changes.
Now, the signal at a crosswalk is designed to remain flashing long enough that even the slowest moving among the population would have an opportunity to get all the way across the crosswalk before the light would stop flashing, and that's to allow for the varying physical capacities that exist with people using the crosswalk. So when the amber light is flashing, the driver knows that they need to look and examine the crosswalk to ensure that there isn't someone in that crosswalk, that they do not have to yield to an individual in the crosswalk. After making that examination, then of course they can proceed through the crosswalk.
The difficulty with the red light is that it requires all drivers to come to a complete stop before proceeding through the crosswalk. The honourable member can appreciate that there are a great number of crosswalks, especially in urban areas, and what is required is for drivers to note that there is a flashing light regardless of what the colour is and to use precaution when approaching the crosswalk, to ensure that they have examined to see whether anybody is using the crosswalk and then proceed. So that is the principal difficulty associated with the use of red lights.
I would also like to say that there are, I believe, some refinements that we can make with respect to the visibility of crosswalk lights. The overhead flashing amber light sometimes is difficult for drivers to see - it would be difficult for a driver to see if they're behind a large vehicle in front of them that would block out their line of sight to the flashing amber light, and it's difficult to see if they're in a vehicle that doesn't allow them the height or the visibility in terms of being able to look up high enough to see those lights. So I believe that there is room for us to expand the flashing signal so that there is a portion of that flashing signal more in line with the sight of the drivers, and that is certainly something that we will want to be looking at.
My message, of course, with crosswalk safety is that regardless of design, regardless of the colour of the lights, regardless of anything else, when you come to a crosswalk there are responsibilities. There are responsibilities on the part of the driver to ensure that there isn't somebody in the crosswalk; there is a responsibility of the driver to be looking for crosswalks; and it is the responsibility of the person using the crosswalk to ensure that they have the attention of the driver, that that person before entering the crosswalk has - my rule of thumb is you should make eye contact with the driver, satisfy yourself that the driver sees you before you enter the crosswalk.
I had an experience not long ago of a jogger who approached a crosswalk, came down the hill for the crosswalk so rapidly that, even though I had checked all the way around, the person was right in front of me. That pedestrian did not take the time to check to see whether the crosswalk was clear or to make contact with me. We didn't come close to any kind of contact or anything else, but it certainly scared me - the speed with which that person entered the crosswalk and the very little bit of warning that I had to be able to respond. So there is no substitute for this awareness, and one of the things that we have to address is to continue to make people aware of the need to exercise caution when it comes to the use of crosswalks.
MS. MASSEY: Mr. Chairman, I do have to just sort of rebut one of the things that was said. I think you mentioned that the way it is set up now with the amber lights there is ample time for even the slowest moving of us to get across the street. I think I'm pretty fast moving when I'm crossing the streets and I've managed to not make it across at certain times in Dartmouth East at some of the crosswalk sections we have. So I think there is an issue, and for seniors and people with disabilities, they do find it hard sometimes to get across. I'm not sure if people are looking for even the red lights at all crosswalks, but there have been
requests for them at certain places where there is a certain traffic flow or what have you. Maybe you can look at the amount of traffic flowing there and how disruptive it would be, I guess.
I know you are weighing one thing against the other, but I actually was talking to a constituent earlier this evening about crosswalk safety. This constituent, in fact, doesn't live in my riding any more but he's very concerned about what has happened recently. One of the things he was saying was can you ask the minister are we looking at innovative things - what kind of innovating things are we looking at? One of the things he mentioned was maybe shorter posts, what you are talking about, visibility, the level of visibility, the height issue, and maybe a post closer to when you are getting to the crosswalk, but just at sort of eye level so when you are in a car you can see that. He's very concerned, and I know probably most of us have had near misses driving on the streets - we all get more distracted as we have more toys to play with in the car, and one of them is a cellphone.
When the Road Safety Advisory Committee made their recommendations - the required legislation changes were never made, but they did have draft legislation - I believe it included requirements for the ignition interlock device, which we have now gone forward with, and one of the other things was drivers to pay sole attention to the operation of a motor vehicle. To me, you could read into that that it means no cellphones when you are in a car, and I know our prior honourable member, Jerry Pye, from Dartmouth North, I believe tabled a bill in here on numerous occasions which would ban the use of cellphones in cars.
Maybe it's time we looked at that again because, in fact, the gentleman I was talking to this evening said he saw a near-miss accident recently and he actually followed the person in the car - because this person was talking on a cellphone and almost hit somebody - and when the person pulled over he went up to him and asked, do you realize you almost ran somebody over because you were talking on the cellphone? One of the things that was in that draft legislation, I believe, was that.
One of the other things was warning signs, when you are a new operator or learning to drive, which we have now seen the government moving on. It's very unfortunate, though, that that report was in the Auditor General's Report and the draft legislation was prior to that, so we are talking prior 2004 that those recommendations were made and that draft legislation was actually drawn up, and we never saw movement on that until after we have seen some very, very sad occurrences here in this province.
So I think we need to really maybe come up with some innovative new ways of dealing with pedestrian safety issues. I'm not saying we need to do one thing right across the whole province, but maybe we could try some different things in different areas and watch
to see how that works. The Road Safety Advisory Committee actually had subcommittees under it also, I believe.
I know there are many things in that Auditor General's Report - I mean it's a great document and I hope you've had time to go over that and really look into what's in there - they made a lot of comments on the lack of reporting that the committee did, the lack of minutes that were kept, and the lack of minutes that were kept when the deputy ministers and ministers met with those committees - some meetings had no minutes at all. There have been recommendations made that they should be reporting to the House of Assembly on road safety issues and, in fact, there's no comprehensive comparative reporting done in the province on that.
So it's very disconcerting when you read that Auditor General's Report. I know I've had some time in here, which is five minutes during Question Period to ask you questions in regard to the Auditor General's Report and it's just not enough time to get out all the things you want to ask. So I'll apologize to my constituents for not being able to get out every question that I wanted to ask - and I have two minutes left now.
I guess I'm a little bit concerned in that - now you know it's not a bad thing for the mayor and the minister to strike a joint committee, but this work I think has been done. It has been done by the Road Safety Advisory Committee. It has been done by the road safety vision that was done. I think a lot of the work has been done, but we've just neglected to move on it and we're just saying well, now we've got a joint committee and we're going to look at these things all over again, and in the meantime people are going to be hurt in our crosswalks. So I guess the question is - and it's a philosophical one - how can the public rely on your department to take care of our pedestrians and the people in our cars when the information that's coming through, the data that's coming through, and the reporting that's coming through is done poorly in that we haven't followed through on recommendations that the Auditor General made in 2004?
So I would just want to hear your views on what I've said in the last few minutes.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member referenced the work of the Road Safety Advisory Committee and the Auditor General's Report. I'm quite pleased to let the honourable member know that we have provided support personnel to the RSAC group, so there is in fact a written record kept of their meetings and the recommendations that come forward from their meetings.
I would also welcome the opportunity to let the honourable member know that it is the intention of the mayor and myself to underline the need for all involved, with respect to the issue of crosswalk safety, the need to do precisely what the honourable member is saying, to come forward with action plans where it is appropriate and where people have made the recommendations and that we're not here this time next year talking about the same things
over again. We do have with municipal units, they have their local traffic authority and the local traffic authority has certain responsibilities, and we need to ensure that those traffic authorities are able to have the tools they need to be able to do the job that they have to do. So that puts a responsibility on us when it comes to any legislative or policy direction that would apply province-wide.
In my discussions with the mayor we felt that it was appropriate for us to underline to officials at both levels of government that we are serious about addressing the issue of crosswalk safety and that was the purpose in us bringing together a group - it's not to re-create the wheel in any way but it is to ensure that we're taking a course of action that is going to address or make improvements where we have the capacity to make improvements.
You know, one of the great challenges that we have around the issue of crosswalk safety is the challenge associated with the size of many of the vehicles that are on the road. One of the things that is a real challenge is the location of crosswalks in conjunction with the location of bus stops, because when a bus is stopped at the side of the road and a driver is in another lane coming along, that driver's vision of the crosswalk is completely blocked and it's very difficult for that driver to be as aware as they should that they are approaching a crosswalk because of this obstruction. So there is work to do with respect to getting around issues of that nature.
The same is true - the size of the vehicles that are on the road now and parking spaces that lead up to crosswalks, how many vehicles is it safe to put on the side of the road leading up to a crosswalk in terms of visibility, in terms of drivers being able to be aware, and also of pedestrians being able to understand that when they are walking out in front of a large vehicle that, in fact, the vehicle approaching in the other lane doesn't see that person from the crosswalk. How do we get around that particular situation? That's a very real problem and our capacity to be able to address that gets into all sorts of challenges.
So, in the final analysis, we can make improvements and I've received many very good suggestions from a number of Nova Scotians by way of e-mail and by way of mail, by way of telephone calls, and some of those can be implemented, some may not be able to be implemented, but in the final analysis we put forward every good positive suggestion that we have, and we still come down to the issue of driver and pedestrian having a shared responsibility with respect to crosswalks and that requires an awareness program. That's one of the things that I want to see addressed - a greater effort to make people aware of the need to exercise safety when it comes to the use of their vehicles, and people using crosswalks to be much more aware of the fact that people driving vehicles may have their vision blocked as far as the approach to the crosswalk is concerned and they shouldn't assume safety simply because they're in a crosswalk.
MS. MASSEY: I thank the minister for his answers, and I'm turning my remaining time over to my honourable colleague, the member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. LEONARD PREYRA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just have a few short questions, and I welcome the opportunity to speak to the minister again about some issues related specifically to my constituency of Halifax Citadel.
I would like to begin by thanking the minister for responding to an issue that has festered for quite awhile in my constituency and that was the question of the parking tickets and being in the wrong place, and eventually we hope to see within the next day or so that this issue will be corrected, but I wanted to thank the minister for following up on our various conversations and for actually acting on that request.
I do have another issue that I would like to raise again with the minister and that relates to the Mary E. Black Gallery, the former Mary E. Black Gallery space. As the minister knows, the Mary E. Black Gallery has left Barrington Street and moved to the harbour. The Downtown Halifax Business Commission and a number of heritage groups as well are concerned that the department is going to occupy that space as a government office, and it will take away from the character of the street and they would very much like that to remain retail space that would respect the long-term plans of the business commission to establish Barrington Street as a heritage district and I'm wondering, has the minister any further thoughts on his department's plans for the space formerly occupied by the Mary E. Black Gallery?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member and I have had discussions about the space in question, and it is the space on the Barrington Street level of the Johnson Building, which is owned by the Province of Nova Scotia. That building currently houses the Department of Transportation and Public Works, or I should say a portion of that department is housed in that facility, and that's one of the challenges that we have as a department - some of the key personnel who should be in that building, to allow us to function in a more cohesive manner, are currently not in the building and we have a need for the space to be able to function as a department.
I'm not unappreciative of the commission's desires with respect to Barrington Street, but I am also very much aware of the needs that we have as a department. I'm also mindful of the fact that Halifax is the capital city of the Province of Nova Scotia and, as such, it has some responsibility with respect to the operation of government within the capital city, to serve the needs of all citizens of the province and part of that responsibility is for there to be space to house government employees in the capital. It is a building that is owned by the people of the Province of Nova Scotia and it is a building that houses the Department of Transportation and Public Works, which serves the needs of all of the people of the Province of Nova Scotia. And it's important that that department be able to function appropriately, and we need the space to be able to function - to bring people within the department so that we can do a better job of serving the needs of the people of the Province of Nova Scotia.
The other point I want to make with the honourable member is that, currently, if you traverse Barrington Street you will find that there are a number of vacant commercial properties on Barrington Street now, in properties that are privately owned, and it begs the question as to what role does government have of becoming a landlord and setting itself up in competition with private enterprise who own property on Barrington Street that is currently vacant - that is something that, I believe, is not philosophically in line with the views of this government with respect with how we would want to operate.
As I said at the outset, I'm not unsympathetic to the desires of the commission but, on the other hand, as a capital city, Halifax does have a responsibility to house the government offices on behalf of all of the people of this province, and we took a decision to use that space in the Johnson Building to achieve that purpose.
MR. PREYRA: I thank the minister for his very detailed response to that question. In our conversations he had suggested that he was open to the idea of making that space at least look more and fit more with the needs of the street and the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, and I think the government, notwithstanding the fact that it owns the building, has a duty to behave like a good citizen and respect the wider wishes of the community - but I will move on because I have very little time and I have two questions.
Well, maybe I'll just ask one since the member for Pictou East has been waiting patiently for his turn - I have a question for the minister in his capacity as the Minister of Gaelic Affairs. I received a letter from the Highland Games Committee saying the government was at the Tartan Day event and they were very happy to be there and has supported it publicly, but the Highland Games have been asking for some kind of support from the minister's department and the Office of Gaelic Affairs and from Tourism, Culture and Heritage and nothing has been forthcoming, and they're only several weeks away now from the Highland Games. I'm wondering, how can we bridge that gap between the rhetoric of government support for our Gaelic heritage, but the reality of not really any funding for this really important cultural event?
MR. MACISAAC: The Office of Gaelic Affairs, the fundamental objective is to assist in the development and the use of the Gaelic language and the culture that's built around the language, and the use of the language itself. We have a very limited budget in terms of being able to achieve that objective. We do try to support initiatives where people are trying to get involved by total immersion programs in the use of the Gaelic language.
We are supporting groups that are trying to work with the Department of Education to develop a Gaelic curriculum and have it implemented within the schools so that our youth can start using the language. We have provided support - some of it simply moral support -
to groups that have worked outside the school to bring children together with respect to the use of the language itself.
We have a Highland Games in Antigonish, and it is the longest continuous running Highland Games in North America. It addresses a wider aspect of the Scottish culture in terms of the games and the dance and the music that is associated with it - it has done little over the years, there's a bit more awareness now, to actually promote the use of the language itself.
Our mission is much more focused on initiatives that will promote the use and the revival of the language within the Province of Nova Scotia. There are about 250,000 Nova Scotians who are descended from Highland Scots in this province. We've identified - not us, but the Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia has identified there are about 10 per cent of that number who have a desire to learn the language or to gain some exposure to the language. Really, our focal group is to try to provide those individuals with as much opportunity to revive the use of the language as possible, to give them opportunities to be exposed to it.
There is a tremendous network out there sponsored by the Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia, and by others, in terms of the use of the language. There is some of it taking place here in metro; in Pictou County there is some activity taking place, people involved in total immersion programs; similarly in Antigonish County; Victoria County as well as Inverness County in Cape Breton; and also and in parts of Richmond County there would be a real interest in reviving the language - and I shouldn't leave out Guysborough County, which has a strong traditional element of the use of the language there.
I can recall in my youth, growing up when the seniors of the community were individuals who were operating and speaking to you in English as their second language. So in a very short period of time we have lost that link, and our responsibility is trying to restore that.
MR. PREYRA: I want to thank the minister for his response to that question. It was really little more than a request that he use his good offices to impress on his Cabinet colleagues that this was a worthwhile cultural event, and it's an important event in Halifax and it's an important event for the Scottish community here and I would encourage him to rethink his position, if indeed it does need rethinking.
I'll pass my time remaining to the member for Pictou East.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. CLARRIE MACKINNON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman (Interruption) I certainly appreciated the Gaelic response there - I'm just glad that the minister didn't repeat it in Gaelic because my time would have been gone.
However, I'm going to have to be fairly quick here, and I would like to thank the minister for some of the work that has been done in the last year, particularly the biggest project in my riding, which was the Woodburn Road, and I also appreciate the work that is done under RIM as well. I think the RIM program is a program that doesn't have a lot of partisanship in it and it does a lot of good in all rural ridings.
My concern is that we are looking at capital construction somewhere in the order of $145 million, and the Nova Scotia Road Builders Association has been insisting that we need something in the order of $400 million annually. It's my understanding that we would have, somewhere in an average year, 400 to maybe 550 kilometres of new paving - is that a fair statement? What I'm trying to get at is when you take the urban ridings out of Nova Scotia, and you look at the rural ridings like Pictou East - one that has more roads than most - I'm just wondering how much work actually will be done in that riding. Can we count on a certain amount of work to be done?
I would like to present to the minister a copy of the priorities already sent to the department, and with the limited amount of time that I have I can't get into these, but these are again very tender-oriented pieces. There are actually 20 on the list of priorities for Pictou East and this represents about - actually, it's in excess of 100 kilometres. Now, having said that, a lot of these tender-sized pieces are, in fact, along the same road, and I think people would be very pleased if at least a portion was done in each of the next three or four or five years. I'm not asking that all of this be done, but can we count on 25 or 30 kilometres in Pictou East? I will pass this along to the minister - there are 20 identified tender-sized pieces and I would certainly appreciate some real attention to some of them at least.
MR. MACISAAC: I'm familiar, I've seen the list previously. I can say to the honourable member, if you're speaking in terms of 30 kilometres of pavement, you're talking approximately $7.5 million, and there isn't any riding in Nova Scotia that would be getting $7.5 million on county roads, in terms of paving. We don't have the resources to be able to do that, but I can tell the honourable member that we do look at every part of the province and we attempt to apportion funds appropriately in those areas.
One of the things that the honourable member would be aware of that's taking place in his riding is the twinning of Highway No. 104, and that does provide an improved transportation link for the people living within that riding who traverse to New Glasgow on a regular basis. That is in the vicinity of $5 million worth of work that would take place just there alone, so you can see that the money gets eaten up pretty rapidly when it comes to doing projects.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I do want to thank the minister for including the twinning from the Thorburn exit to Sutherlands River in the current budget - certainly that is appreciated. Most of the calls that I get in a rural riding are related to roads that are in bad shape throughout the rural area. I don't get too many calls in relationship to the Trans-
Canada Highway - of course the Trans-Canada is extremely important and that twinning is very important.
In relationship to RIM, the Rural Impact Mitigation program, I'm wondering how much we can count on in Pictou East - I think it's a standard amount, is it not, for each rural riding? I have a list that includes 15 asphalt projects, seven shoulder gravel, nine gravelling, 15 ditching, seven bush cutting, and five guardrails, and that comes to something in the order of $600,000. Is that a reasonable expectation for Pictou East?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the distribution of the RIM money is based on a formula that takes into account the number kilometres of roads that are in a riding where the RIM money would be spent. A small bit of that calculation includes traffic volumes, but it's much more heavily weighted in favour of the kilometres. The honourable member has a riding where there are a lot of kilometres of rural roads, so that will be reflected in the amount of money that's distributed.
But I want to caution the honourable member that we do not distribute it by riding, we distribute it by jurisdiction, so Troy Webb, in your area, would distribute the money throughout his area of responsibility. And what I encourage all honourable members to do - and it's a practice that I have used since I've been elected in 1999 and the RIM money has come into use - is I always meet with the area manager and have a discussion with them, and I usually find that my list of priorities, with respect to RIM money, mirrors almost about 90 or 95 per cent of what the department staff are thinking about in terms of what has to be done.
So it's been an extremely positive relationship for me in that regard, and I'm sure the honourable member has lists that he should be sharing with the area manager and I'm sure that he would find there would be a pretty strong overlap between what he sees as priorities and what the local departmental officials feel are priorities.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, I'm glad the minister mentioned Troy Webb, the area manager. I would like to say that I could not have a better person to work with in that department than that particular area manager. He is outstanding in his job - he gets back to me sometimes on a daily basis - and I think we should acknowledge the good work that people are doing in that department, particularly Troy Webb.
I don't have much time, so I'm going to be very quick here. In relationship to bridges, we have three fundamental needs in Pictou East. One is the Thorburn Bridge, which is in very horrible shape - school buses cannot go over it, the pillars underneath are splintered. It's a huge bridge, and I could go into quite a bit of detail in relationship to that, however, I want
to talk about the Black Brook Bridge, which is close to the Pictou-Guysborough County line - which the minister would be very familiar with, with his roots in northern Nova Scotia - and that's another situation where I'm getting calls from school bus drivers, from local people, and that involves a rerouting of that chunk of highway.
Also the Gut Bridge at Pictou Landing, the replacement there is a single lane and that's important as well, but these other two - the Thorburn Bridge, the fire chief was under there recently and just with a jackknife, he was picking at some of the pillars there. This bridge is very high, although it doesn't look like it from the road, coal trains used to go under it. It's very, very important. School buses are having to go around it, and the Black Brook Bridge is a similar situation where school bus people are very, very concerned about that.
The time I have - I wish I had about three times as much - but if we can get many of these RIM projects looked after, and certainly a chunk of the ones that have been outlined in priority form. We have some areas where tourism is becoming increasingly important - up in the East River Valley, we have four kiosks being built there - people cannot pound their vehicles to look at some of our great attractions in Pictou East.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time has expired for the honourable member.
The honourable member for Clare.
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Yesterday, when I left off we were talking about bridges, so I want to continue where we left off yesterday.
I want to turn to the estimates, the Supplementary Detail. My first question to the minister is, looking at the budget, the department is planning to spend $12.3 million on bridge maintenance this year, would it be possible to get a list of those bridges that will receive some repairs this year? My other question is, I would be interested in finding out how much the department is planning to spend on new bridge construction this year - again, would it be possible to get a list of those new capital projects? So the bridges that will be receiving some repairs this year, along with new bridges that the department is looking at constructing.
MR. MACISAAC: We'll be spending $20 million for new and replacement bridges in the system throughout the province, plus the money that will find its way to 100-Series Highways as a result of new construction and the need for new structures on those highways, and we're adding $3.5 million to bridges in other parts of the province at $12.3 million.
The challenge we would have in providing the list the honourable member refers to is that the amount of work that might be done on a bridge could vary all the way from the replacement of a striped sign at the end of the bridge - that's there for people to know that a bridge is there and they're approaching the bridge - all the way from the replacement of a
sign like that to the complete re-planking of the bridge, or the structure work underneath, and to undertake to compile a list of that nature would be quite a challenge. Perhaps the honourable member, if he has an interest in specific bridges, if he could provide us with that list we would be quite happy to try to see which of those bridges might be addressed in the coming year.
MR. GAUDET: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, maybe again, to the minister, if the minister could undertake to provide us with a list of the new bridges that will be constructed in this upcoming construction season as well as the bridges that will be replaced. So technically I understand where the minister is going with this, with the general maintenance on bridges, but I guess what I was looking for is the bigger projects that the department is looking at addressing in this coming construction season.
At the same time, before the minister responds to that one, every year, Mr. Chairman, it seems there's always something that comes up as an emergency - a bridge collapse, a burned bridge, whatever, something of an emergency - and I'm just curious, I suspect when an emergency does come up the department needs to respond quickly to these emergencies, and I suspect that the department has some money set aside for emergency purposes. So I'm just curious, when the minister responds about the bridge replacement this year, the projects that the department will undertake, could the minister indicate how much money is available in the emergency fund to address these concerns that do come up in the run of a year?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, we have three bridges in Truro that are on standby, that we can move to any given location in the province if they're needed in the case of an emergency. Other emergencies that may present themselves are dealt with by a rearrangement of the capital program in order to accommodate those situations as that would arise. That seems to work in terms of being able to address the situation. I can tell the honourable member I'll do my utmost to make sure that rearrangement doesn't negatively impact him - I know that would be a concern - however, we do from time to time get into situations where the best laid plans of mice and men go astray and you do have to respond to emergencies as they arise.
Later in the year, when the program is complete, I would be pleased to provide the honourable member with a list of new bridges that are being erected throughout the province.
MR. GAUDET: Thank you, and that's acceptable, Mr. Minister.
Before I move to another topic, the minister received a letter from the Moser River Board of Trade, from the vice-president, Mr. Allan Lowe - this is probably in the last week or so - and he indicated the local bridge needs repairs. He was told by the local department superintendent that there's no money in this year's budget. He's asking the minister or the department to close the sidewalk on that bridge, and he's also requesting the weight be restricted on that bridge. My question to the minister is, has the department responded to Mr.
Lowe's request and, if not, how does the department respond to this type of request? I'm sure there are many requests that come through the department in any given year.
MR. MACISAAC: I thank the honourable member for the inquiry on the Moser River Bridge. That is a bridge that has, in fact, been investigated by the department. The structure itself is sound and is quite safe; the superstructure of the bridge, or the top of the bridge, does need some work and an evaluation of the work that's needed is underway, and there will be a plan put in place to address that.
MR. GAUDET: Since we're talking about some specifics, I want to raise another concern that was in the media yesterday - the Canso Causeway. Yesterday, Mayor Billy Joe MacLean was calling for a toll of another sort to help cover the costs of maintaining the causeway. As he indicated, of course this funding, this budget, would be used to maintain and maybe carry out some additional work to the causeway - he indicated maybe to install warning lights and possibly create an enclosure over the highway.
My first question to the minister is, is the government providing funds needed to maintain the Canso Causeway? And my second question is, does the minister agree with the mayor that there should be some type of a special fund set up to help maintain the causeway and for improvements?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I can say to the honourable member that we do have plans for improvements for the Canso Causeway this year. We're going to renew the lighting all the way across the causeway. We're also doing an evaluation of - I see the honourable member for Inverness nodding his head in agreement, and I can say that I received some very strong representation from him with respect to that issue, and I'm very pleased to be able to respond to him, he does have another capacity here which is not without note. At any rate, that is taking place, and we're also doing an assessment of the needs with respect to guardrails on the causeway - we do continuously look at the needs of the Canso Causeway.
I can tell you that the causeway is a very interesting part of our highway system inasmuch as the surface of the causeway itself is something over which the province has responsibility, but I understand the structure below the waterline is the responsibility of the Government of Canada. So, when you look at the long-term integrity of the Canso Causeway, it is something that will have to be addressed by both levels of government.
The work that we will be doing on the causeway will not require us to charge a toll in order to have that work done. The maintenance of the causeway is something that comes out of our highway budget and we are very mindful of the requirements that are needed at the causeway - and I can say that we have, for safety reasons, implemented a new weigh scale
system at the causeway that allows vehicles to be weighed before they reach the actual weigh station and, as a result of the sensors that are now built into the road, the system will automatically tell a driver if they are close enough to the limits, or deemed to be over the limits, that they should call into the scale. So that's in moving easterly that the system is in effect, and that has cut down the need for these trucks to cut across the traffic by a considerable amount, and that has added to the safety of the Canso Causeway.
So we are very mindful; we're continuously making improvements to the causeway. It's a structure that just recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary and the need for us to be spending money there as a result of the age factor will be greater as we move forward than perhaps it has been in the past, but we're very mindful of that responsibility.
MR. GAUDET: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I have one final question for the minister on the Canso Causeway. Could the minister inform the committee how much funding the department spends on maintaining the causeway annually?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the Canso Causeway is not a separate budget item, it's part of the highway system, so as we spend money on it, it is not - there is not a separate causeway budget, so to speak, so to provide that sort of detail is probably not something we could do. We might be able to provide an approximate number, but not the detailed number.
MR. GAUDET: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I just thought that maybe the department had a given budget item or money set aside within the department to maintain the Canso Causeway.
I want to move to Page 20.6 of the Supplementary Detail. I want to talk about the Snow and Ice Control and, as everyone is aware, we had a very mild winter in Nova Scotia this year - I think the southwestern part of the province probably had more snow than any part of this province and that's very unusual, and I hope that trend does not continue next winter - and I see that the department had budgeted almost $44 million under Snow and Ice Control. Does the minister have some idea in terms of how much of that budget item will be left over from this winter?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, if you look at Page 20.6 of the book, you'll see that the estimate for 2006-07 was $43.9 million; we actually spent $36.9 million and the difference there is about $6.9 million. What we were able to do, because of the mild weather, we were able to use some of that money and do summer-type maintenance, so it got recycled out of snow and ice control to maintenance work, so $4.7 million of the $6.9 million got used in that capacity.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, to the minister, looking at last year's budget, 2006-07, or the previous year, I'm just curious, for this winter that's just about done - hopefully the snow is done as well - is the department looking at recycling whatever is left over out of
the snow and ice budget for this season, to leave that funding with the local field offices for general maintenance for this coming summer, or Spring?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, we're now 11 days into the new fiscal year and the money that would have not been spent at the end of March is money that remains unspent. It goes to the accumulated sort of surplus of the department for the year, and from there to the Minister of Finance. So once the year is over, then the year is over with respect to that money - we are not able to carry it forward.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Minister, if I understand this, whatever surplus is left is recalled by Halifax. So the field offices have to forward whatever credit, and I don't want to anticipate that they have the actual dollars in the different field offices, so whatever is left in their ice and snow budget is being recalled by Halifax, by your department, that goes back to the Department of Finance. Is that correct?
MR. MACISAAC: Yes, our department isn't any different than any other department of government. Any money that's unspent at the end of March is money that goes to the Department of Finance and gets reflected in the final surplus figures that are published, I think, in September for the final reconciliation of the fiscal year - is that the correct term? (Interruption) Yes. That's where that money - ours is no different than any other department of government.
MR. GAUDET: Again, continuing on with the Snow and Ice Control budget, I'm looking at the Estimates Book, Page 20.12, and it says, "Provides for the removal of snow and ice buildup on paved highways and gravel roads . . .", so I want to turn my attention to gravel roads, and I want to specifically go to the department's policy for snow and ice control for gravel roads.
Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, just a couple of months ago, back in February of this year, on a Friday afternoon of course, I received a number of telephone calls from residents in the Maxwellton-Hectanooga area. These individuals, these residents live on a gravel road, and their road was very slippery and covered with snow on this particular day and a few vehicles had gone off the road into the ditch - I understand one or two in the morning and then a few more in the afternoon. Some residents called up to let me know that they had called the local field office of the Department of Transportation and Public Works in Clare, in Saulnierville as a matter of fact, requesting sand for their road to help with tracking, which to me was very reasonable and made sense. As the conversation continued, I was told that it was not possible - they were told by the employees at the local office that they could not go out and put some sand on their gravel road.
I can understand why they were upset when they called me. When I looked at the policy and tried to explain to them what the department's policy is - and I want to focus a little bit on the policy, Mr. Chairman - it talks about Level 4 - Snow Packed, and it says,
"Gravel roads shall only have sand or other approved abrasives applied. The use of salt or other deicers on gravel roads is strictly prohibited. The use of sand or other approved abrasives is to be limited, in terms of both quantity and frequency, and normally applied only to hills, turns, intersections and railway crossings after a storm has ended. Level areas will not normally be sanded unless severe slippery conditions exist."
Now, I understand that day some Transportation and Public Works staff from the Saulnierville office did carry out a road inspection earlier in the day. I don't know if the department staff continued to monitor the road condition throughout the day, but I do know that with the mild winter we had, these residents only called me one day throughout the whole winter, so they certainly weren't abusing the system. For them, basically with the road conditions on that given day, and for taking the time, at least - I heard from four of those individuals, one in the morning and three in the afternoon - to express their frustrations toward the government, toward your department, Mr. Minister, about your department's policy about the application of sand on gravel roads, or snow and ice control for gravel roads, I can tell you they were not impressed whatsoever, with children travelling on those roads and with families and so forth.
I told these individuals that I would bring their concerns to your attention, Mr. Minister, and I would ask that you bring this policy back to your department and it certainly needs to be reviewed. As far as I'm concerned, this policy, maybe it makes a little bit of sense about applying sand to hills and turns and intersections and railway crossings after a storm, but level areas will not normally be sanded? You know, try to explain it to people who are frustrated, who had some accidents throughout the day, that the department cannot put sand on your gravel road to help you with tracking - they could not understand that. Luckily, Mr. Chairman, nobody was injured in these several vehicles that went off the road that day, but who knows - who knows what winter will bring next year?
So my question to the minister is, will the minister undertake to look at this policy? I think it's absolutely critical that the government reviews this policy in order to simply prevent some accidents from happening and possibly someone getting hurt. I'll take my seat and listen to the minister.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, what I'll do is perhaps share my interpretation of the policy with the honourable member and see where we are with respect to that. The first part of what he read, with respect to curves, hills, railroad crossings is in the period after a storm that it's applied in those circumstances, but the policy, as I heard him read it, goes on to say that when ice is present there's a much more liberal application of sand throughout the entire road because of the circumstances that apply there.
What wasn't read by the honourable member, but what is in fact practised, is that the sand does not get applied when it's raining heavily because the sand simply gets washed off and it doesn't stay on the surface. Now, I don't know what the weather conditions were on the day in question, whether it was raining that day and department officials decided not to apply the sand until the rain had ceased, I don't know, but certainly we will make some inquiries as to whether or not we have any difficulty in understanding our own policy.
I think my interpretation of the policy is one which appears to be reasonably prudent in that if there is ice everywhere, and I see it in my own area, that there is a rather liberal application of sand in those circumstances because, obviously, without the sand you don't have the traction, you don't have the ability to steer and control the vehicle in the manner in which would be safe for those people using the road. My interpretation may be different than the honourable member's, and I'm quite prepared to listen to what he has to say.
MR. GAUDET: Again, I want to let the minister know on that given day the gravel road was covered with snow, but there was ice underneath it. The road was extremely slippery - I actually asked one individual, who went off the road at one of the intersections in his community, if there was sand in the intersection, and I was told there was none that was laid out in the intersection. So again, to the minister, the road, it was a gravel road, there was ice underneath the snow, it was relatively warm that day, but the road was extremely slippery, and what these residents failed to understand is that staff from the Department of Transportation and Public Works would not come out and put down some sand to help them with tracking.
I did contact the operational supervisor in Saulnierville, and I did speak with the area manager late Friday afternoon in Yarmouth, again bringing it to their attention and the only thing that I got back, like I indicated earlier, four individuals called me complaining about how treacherous their road was and that the department should be putting some sand to help with tracking, but they had notified the local office to no avail - no sand was laid down.
So to me, when I look at this policy, someone does not understand the policy, "Level areas will not normally be sanded unless severe slippery conditions exist." Well, on that given day there were lots of slippery conditions that existed along that road, so I would ask the minister maybe, as he indicated, to do a follow-up because I think it's absolutely critical this situation does not repeat itself next winter. And I'll leave it at that.
Mr. Chairman, I want to move on to Highway No. 101. Yesterday the minister, during his opening comments and following our debate, indicated several new road construction priorities the government is looking at and, hopefully, convincing the federal government to help out with the funding on these projects.
The minister mentioned the Antigonish twinning project and a couple of others, and there's definitely one more that should be included on your list, and I know my honourable
colleague, the member for Digby-Annapolis, earlier talked about the section on Highway No. 101 - as a matter of fact, it's the only section on Highway No. 101 between Bedford and Yarmouth that's not completed. This section, and there has been lots of debate in this House and for many years - as the honourable member earlier indicated, this debate has been ongoing for about 35 years - so I'm sure the minister and the department are very much aware of the section of Highway No. 101 between Digby and Weymouth that has never been completed.
Of course safety continues to be a big concern along this stretch of road that's about 26 kilometres. There has been lots of debate, as I have indicated, over this missing section - the only missing section on Highway No. 101 - and I know the question has been asked time and time again to my colleague, to former colleagues, past MLAs for Digby-Annapolis, and I've been asked since I've been elected, and the question always comes back, when will this section of Highway No. 101 between Weymouth and Digby be built?
That question has been kicked around and of course there's still no date set, no signs. Again, we can understand why the people from along that stretch of road would be very frustrated. But I hope our government will take this matter under consideration and decide to include it in our next highway agreement with the federal government, if that's possible, so people living along the stretch of road between Digby and Weymouth will know, once and for all, when to expect to see construction begin on this uncompleted section of Highway No. 101.
So it has certainly been way too long. I don't know if the minister knows or would like to respond - I'm sure he, as well, has been hearing from many frustrated individuals, municipal councils, school boards, private residents, so I would hope the minister will seriously give this project some consideration and, as I indicated, hope, because the minister indicated yesterday the government has a number of priorities they're looking at, hoping to enter into agreements with the federal government for funding in order to go ahead and construct these projects.
Again, I hope the minister will give it some thought and if at all possible, remember that these people from Digby County have been waiting a long time and they would like someone, someday, to be able to tell them when they can expect that section of road on Highway No. 101 completed.
Speaking of Highway No. 101, I know the department has been working at twinning Highway No. 101 for at least the last 10 years maybe, but there's another concern that should be addressed and needs to be raised again. I know it's been raised before in this House, but there is definitely a need for passing lanes between Coldbrook and Bridgetown. I would like to ask the minister if the department has any discussions or any plans over constructing some passing lanes along Highway No. 101 between Coldbrook and Bridgetown and, if so, what
has the department decided to do, especially what concerns this section of Highway No. 101 between Coldbrook and Bridgetown?
MR. MACISAAC: I can tell the honourable member that with respect to the issue of passing lanes, some preliminary work has been done from Berwick to Kingston with respect to the eventual building of passing lanes on that section. I certainly appreciate what the honourable member is saying. While it is a flat section - and we usually associate passing lanes with hills - this is a section of road where the occasional third lane would certainly improve the flow of traffic and ease the situation, but there has been some preliminary work done.
With respect to the section at Highway No. 101 - I very much appreciate what the honourable member is saying, both the honourable member for Clare and the honourable member for Digby-Annapolis, with respect to that section of road. It is Highway No. 101, but not a controlled-access road, similar to Highway No. 104 where I live, from Addington Forks through almost to the Pomquet River Road, even beyond Heatherton - through to Heatherton it is not a controlled-access road, and that does present its challenges. That's a piece of road that has numerous speed zones - as low as 60 kilometres an hour in a section of that road - and very heavy traffic.
I recall going home one weekend in October on a Friday evening and about 12 kilometres outside of Antigonish I started to wonder what was happening, that there must have been an accident or something on the road ahead of me because the traffic was slowing up - and I see the honourable member for Cape Breton Centre looking at me, I know he's traversed that road many times - and then it would seem to speed up and then it slowed up, and I got closer to Antigonish and it almost came to a virtual stop and then it would move again. This was for a section of 12 kilometers, and it suddenly dawned on me after about 5 kilometres that it was the traffic lights at Antigonish that were causing the traffic. It was backed up that far and it was just stop and go, stop and go, all the way - so I'm very familiar with the challenges of non-controlled-access highways.
Through that particular section, I don't know if I've lost track of the number of traffic lights there are, but I believe there are one, two, three - three traffic lights going through that particular section of road and it is very heavily traversed. So I understand when I hear an honourable member say that people have been waiting to hear the answer to the question when, and I'm very sympathetic to that.
MR. GAUDET: Again, looking at Highway No. 101, I want to talk about car-pool parking lots. Back in 2005, I forwarded a request to the department for two car-pool parking lots - one at Exit 28, that's in the St. Bernard area, and one at Exit 31, which is in the Meteghan-St. Martin area - which are located at both extremes of the Municipality of Clare.
Last summer the department responded favourably to expand the current car-pool parking lot at Exit 31, that's at the Meteghan and St. Martin exit, and motorists were very pleased. We have quite a few people from the Meteghan area who work in Yarmouth and they carpool and, of course, on any given day this car-pool parking lot is pretty well full.
Unfortunately this winter, during one of our snowstorms, motorists could not park in the car-pool parking lot; they had to find somewhere else to park. So my question to the minister is, why can't these car-pool parking lots be plowed at the same time the snowplow goes by? I understand the department's policy is to plow these lots only when all the roads have been cleared. Maybe the minister could indicate if that's correct, if that's the policy. Again, I'm curious why, because I've been asked by some of these individuals who do use the car-pool parking lot, why can't this parking lot be plowed at the same time the snowplow goes by?
MR. MACISAAC: The honourable member has correctly enunciated the policy that we do plow the roads first before any work is done on the parking lots, and that is if the roads are not open then you can't really use the parking lots. The time that you would spend plowing the parking lot is time not spent opening roads, and the priority is given to the opening of the roads.
MR. GAUDET: Coming back to my initial request for a car pool parking lot at Exit 28 near the exit in St. Bernard, especially for people of Clare who are working in Digby, in Cornwallis - could the minister inform me when the department is planning to proceed in constructing a parking lot at Exit 28?
MR. MACISAAC: At this time there aren't any specific plans with respect to doing anything there - that's not to say that we wouldn't respond to a local initiative that might come forward in that regard. I think that has spurred a lot of building of these parking lots in the past, that we've worked in conjunction with local initiatives to do that.
MR. GAUDET: I recall the former Minister of Transportation and Public Works telling me that the department is currently working on developing a policy that will deal with the design and maintenance service of car pool parking lots. My question to the minister is, could the minister inform me when this policy will be available?
MR. MACISAAC: I can't give the honourable member a specific date, but I can tell the honourable member that we will be very pleased to share that information with him when it is complete, but it is under active preparation.
MR. GAUDET: I want to move on to something that was delivered in the Budget Speech. On Page 15 the government announced that they will be making "all provincially
owned buildings in Nova Scotia barrier free for public access by the year 2020." Now I know that my colleague from Annapolis has tabled a bill before this House to promote this initiative, and I want to congratulate the minister and his government for moving on this initiative. I know speaking with representatives from LEO, League of Equal Opportunities, they were very touched by this government initiative. My question to the minister is, does the minister know how many provincially-owned buildings we have in Nova Scotia? My second question is, does the minister know how many of these provincially-owned buildings are already barrier free for public access?
MR. MACISAAC: We'll try to find the exact number - here we are, we operate 30 buildings throughout the province, that is directly. Now, we have leases on many other buildings. All together there are 1,000 buildings that we own in the province. Some of those are museums; I suppose a plow shed would come under that category of being a building that's owned by the department, so there is quite a variety of buildings that are owned.
I can provide the honourable member with perhaps an update on some current activity that we're doing with respect to accessibility, if it is of interest to him. We have 11 audits to carry out over the next fiscal year with respect to accessibility, where we're going to look at buildings - at least this would be in the 30 buildings where we own them and we're providing direct access to individuals. We have the following projects which will carry over: the renovations to the Digby Courthouse; renovations to the Amherst Visitors Information Centre; the Colchester Museum ramp; the renovations to the Antigonish Justice Centre; the Middleton TPW area office, power-assisted doors to our MV area; the Pictou Courthouse renovations as part of the TCA budget; and hope to be able to launch three or four new smaller projects and five to six new audits over the fiscal year of 2007-08. Those projects have not yet been selected, but we do hope to get them done this year.
That's some of the activity. We have $300,000 available in 2006-07 that we used to support progress of implementing barrier-free access to government real property throughout the province. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. GAUDET: I guess, coming back to the target the provincial government has laid out, I'm just wondering, in order for government to reach their target by 2020 to make all provincially-owned buildings in Nova Scotia barrier free, does the minister know how the government proposes to reach that target? Are they looking at setting yearly targets? Will they be reporting yearly in the House? I wonder if the minister could share, if he has any information, with the committee.
MR. MACISAAC: The audits to which I referred in the previous answer are a very important part of the tool we will employ in order to assist us in setting forth a schedule and achieving that objective.
MR. GAUDET: I think I have approximately 10 minutes maybe?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just under 10 minutes.
MR. GAUDET: I will share whatever's left with my colleague for Digby-Annapolis and I will return to the estimates again tomorrow.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Digby-Annapolis.
MR. HAROLD THERIAULT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Mr. Minister. Our time's getting short here tonight and I know I'll be happy and I know you will, too, to get this questioning done. Maybe as Minister of Transportation and Public Works, you could look at putting some bunks in this House - we'd just stay all night and lay in the bunks and ask questions. Maybe we can get it done quicker. It's a good idea - we're long days at this. I know it's like fishing, when you put in 16- to 18- hour days you don't want to drive away from your boat too far, so you just roll in a bunk when you're done and roll out in the morning, at 6:00 a.m., and continue on. Maybe that's what we could do here.
I heard there are new rules that may be coming into the department concerning highway workers and also vehicles that will be used along the highway that may need their bumpers upgraded to bumpers similar to what's being put on guardrails right now - that they're flexible when they're hit, and I know they're on the ends of guardrails and I've been told they may have to be put on the vehicles with a cost of $25,000 possibly per bumper, and more and better signage around workers that's certainly going to take a lot of time to set this signage up. Is any of this true, or am I just being told a fib of some sort?
MR. MACISAAC: I can tell the honourable member that there is a new construction safety manual which will be employed by the department, and it has come into effect on April 1st.
MR. THERIAULT: So this new manual, that's something that the department has put together for its workers? These new bumpers, is that also something that the department is doing?
MR. MACISAAC: It is an update of a manual that was first published in 1995. It has been updated this year and it's to govern the safety practices when work is being conducted on roads in the province, whether it is through departmental personnel or through contractors who are employed to do work on our roads.
MR. THERIAULT: You still haven't answered my question about these flexible bumpers that need to be put on the vehicles, is this true?
MR. MACISAAC: Yes, we have been putting those on vehicles in the metro area for a number of years now, and they're employed and they're part of the safety features of work.
I want to point out the function of the manual is to do two things with respect to work that has taken place on the roads: one is to address the issue of the flow of traffic through a construction site to ensure that we get that traffic through as expeditiously as possible and ensure that the wait times are not too long - and whenever you say that, there were parts of the province last year where people experienced some challenges around the wait time issue; and the second function of the manual is to address the safety of those individuals who are working on the road, as well as the people who are travelling through the road.
MR. THERIAULT: Equipment to work on the highways with trucks, graders, snowplows - who determines when this equipment is worn out and how long does the department keep these machines around before that determination is made?
MR. MACISAAC: The determination is made by the fleet branch at Miller Lake, and the length of time very much depends upon the piece of equipment that is in question.
MR. THERIAULT: It just seems, on the highway, you get in some places and there seems to be more new equipment than in others. I've heard complaints from my area alone where the equipment is pretty shabby and they spend more time working on some of it than they do working on the road. I'm just wondering if that's beneficial or not to the department. I mean, they're painting the complete vehicle, they're stripping it down and repainting it and fixing - they're spending more time on it than they are working on the highways is what I'm getting at. I'm just wondering if that's a good economical thing to do in the department, whether it be worth continuing to rebuild these machines or have them renewed, and it seems to be worse in some places than in others, is that true?
MR. MACISAAC: What I can say about that question is that we have - with respect to the budget for equipment, the type of equipment referenced by the honourable member - increased that budget over the past two years. We're now spending in excess of $8 million a year, whereas two years ago we were spending about $2 million less, about $6 million a year. So we have, over the past two years, increased that budget and it's because we recognize the need for that equipment to be replaced more rapidly than was the case in the past.
MR. THERIAULT: We know a lot of the problems on our highways are from inattention, and we know that there are rules on the 100-Series Highways that you have to have signage back 500 metres or whatever it is - it's quite a ways back from the highway. I'm hearing on the radio that there are people around this city promoting more attractions out along the road so people will pay attention more to what's out around them. I don't know if that's right or not, but it doesn't seem to me that more attractions along the street ways would give people more attention to the people who are walking on crosswalks and such, so I'm just wondering if the department has ever thought about promoting or educating the people of
Nova Scotia that there are two things that you have to watch for when you're driving a vehicle - and that's the other vehicles and the other people who are on the roads, and not more attractions along our highways. Is there anything to educate the people about this, through the department?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I can tell the honourable member that we have budgeted, over the past two years, an amount of $350,000 toward driver awareness, and not just driver awareness, but awareness on the part of all people around the use of highways and crosswalks and that, and we are going to continue to spend that money this year. It's all around the issue of road safety. I can tell the honourable member that in roads where we have controlled access, of course the type of activities that he's referencing are not permitted in most situations, but I'm not certain that I'm fully with him in terms of the activities that he's talking about that I think he feels are distractions, but we're certainly not promoting them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Your time has expired.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. CHARLES PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I welcome the opportunity to have a few quick minutes here before our debate winds up for the day. I've had the opportunity before to ask a few questions on roads and bridges and so on, and in the remaining few minutes I just want to ask about the public tendering process.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Department of Transportation and Public Works is responsible for tendering a number of multi-million dollar projects in this province around roads and bridges, and on behalf of other departments as well. I'd just like to get an overview from the minister on the process of public tendering, and I guess in particular I'm asking about a situation - normally the low tender is awarded a contract, but I understand that's not always the case. I was contacted by a constituent with a concern over a tender that was let, in January of this year, over retreading tires for the Department of Transportation and Public Works and they were the company with the lowest tender, and another company was not far behind them and a third company had no tender at all, but for some reason the tender was not accepted even though they had done the work for a number of years, and it was thrown out for retendering. I wonder, can the minister explain why, in a situation like that, on tire retreading, it was not accepted and it was retendered?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I can provide the honourable member with perhaps a high-level explanation - there were safety issues around the retreads that were being used and those were brought to light after the tender had been issued, and in the interest of safety guidelines were put in place and, as a result, the decision was taken to do a retendering and in the retendering the safety elements were incorporated into the tendering document so that those specifications would have to be met.
MR. PARKER: Can you tell us, then, whether it has at this point been retendered - this was in January and we are into April now and, secondly, how would you handle something like - you know when it is known publicly what the amounts of the tenders are from the previous two bidders, how is it fair to all the parties when two of those tenders are now out in the public light?
MR. MACISAAC: Yes, the issue around the safety dealt with the inconsistent quality of the material that was used in the retread. When that was recognized, the new specs were put in place, and once you put in place new specs then of course the tendering is toward a different product than that which had been tendered previously. As a result of that, the old numbers don't apply any longer - it's a new set of numbers and it's a new set of specifications that have to be met, and it is for safety reasons.
MR. PARKER: Can the minister tell us, then, whether that new tender has been offered yet, or perhaps has it even been settled? I'm not sure, but I'd just like to know where it is in the process.
MR. MACISAAC: It is in process and should be out shortly.
MR. PARKER: Okay. I want to turn to another tender that came to my attention, just today in fact. I think the minister might have received a copy of this as well. It is concerning paint relining on our highways. In this case the contractor had it for many years, lost out on the tender to a brand new, inexperienced operator and he has some concerns over whether the job will actually be done in a timely manner, and whether the processes will be done at all. This is the letter from City Pavement Markings Canada Ltd. and they are quite concerned about the tendering process.
I know we don't have a lot of time here tonight so I'm just going to bring it to the minister's attention. We're going to continue tomorrow with some more questions here in estimates and I'm just serving notice that that's an issue I want to get some more clarification on.
It was a low tender that this time was received, but not everybody is happy with it, I guess. So perhaps, if the minister doesn't mind, I'll ask for an answer tomorrow, and because of the lateness of the hour I think it might be appropriate perhaps that I adjourn debate for tonight and we'll return to this another day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. PATRICK DUNN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I move that the committee do now rise and report progress and beg leave to sit again on a future day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[ The committee adjourned at 9:55 p.m.]