si-nb-claude-williams-220

Transportation Minister Claude Williams said highway tenders are coming in 20 per cent under budget. ((CBC))

Highway construction tenders are coming in 20 per cent under budget this summer, allowing the New Brunswick government to spend more money on paving, Transportation Minister Claude Williams said Friday.

The Department of Transportation saw its capital budget slashed in December during the first wave of cuts made by the Progressive Conservative government.

With a smaller capital budget, the transportation department was forced to curtail the amount of tenders it could issue for summer road construction.

So far, Williams said road construction companies are sending in tenders that are 20 per cent cheaper than expected.

"We've been very fortunate in terms of the tendering process, the paving contracts and the contract work, is coming under estimate so this is a very good sign for us," Williams said.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs cut the Department of Transportation's capital budget to $313.1 million in 2011-12 from $466.3 million last year when he released his capital budget.

'So the fact that the tenders are coming below the estimates, this is a good opportunity to reinvest more on roads in New Brunswick. So this is good for the taxpayers in New Brunswick.' — Transportation Minister Claude Williams

The provincial government has forced its departments to make internal cuts. The Progressive Conservative government has found itself in a battle with district education councils over the imposition of a two per cent budget cut.

Other departments are still trying to find savings, but Williams said his department will use the unexpected funds to invest in more projects this summer.

"I want to reinvest again in the roads in New Brunswick. The Department of Transportation suffered like every other department, if we want to compare our budget this year compared to last year, there was a reduction," Williams said.

"So the fact that the tenders are coming below the estimates, this is a good opportunity to reinvest more on roads in New Brunswick. So this is good for the taxpayers in New Brunswick."

With fewer road projects to bid on this summer, Williams said some companies may have "sharpened their pencils" so they could land summer work.

New Brunswick isn't the only Maritime province benefiting from road construction projects that are coming in under budget.

Nova Scotia Transportation Minister Bill Estabrooks said this week the number of smaller paving projects on secondary roads will triple from 27 to 94 this year.

Nova Scotia also found that "tenders are coming in cheaper than they ever have in the past," Estabrooks said when unveiling an updated road plan.

While Nova Scotia has disclosed the new projects it will push forward with, the New Brunswick government is taking a more cautious approach.

Williams said he is going to review things before he announces new highway projects.

"I want to be very careful before going and spending the extra money that we got in terms of the savings in the tendering process," Williams said.

"I'm being very vigilant in going ahead with projects. It is still early in the season. But i want to ensure that extra money is invested across the province."