Napan's tunnel by another name

The province will soon be able to boast about a tunnel, possibly its first — or about its latest underpass, depending on how you look at what the government is up to near Napan.

Route 11 bypass around community outside Miramichi would go underground in 2 places

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Bill Fraser calls the proposed underground structures 'underpasses' but admits other departmental officials described them as tunnels. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The province will soon be able to boast about a tunnel, possibly its first — or about its latest underpass, depending on how you look at what the government is up in Napan.

A proposed bypass around a business area of Napan, a hamlet outside Miramichi, would include two tunnels — one under the North Napan Road and one under the South Napan Road.

Although the tunnels would take Route 11 underground, the province prefers to use "underpasses" to describe them.

The original plan for the Napan bypass, part of improvements to Route 11, would have seen two overpasses built over the roads.

In 2017 the provincial government announced a $272 million partnership with the federal government to revitalize Route 11.

The province will soon be able to boast about a tunnel, possibly its first — or about its latest underpass, depending on how you look at what the government is up to near Napan. 0:56

This included twinning the highway from Shediac to Bouctouche and adding the bypass between Glenwood and Miramichi.

Work on the two-lane bypass was expected to begin this spring and be completed by 2021.

Fraser said more details would be announced about the bypass tunnels, so it's unclear if the timeline will be affected by the change in design.

But he said it would be cheaper to build "underpasses," but did not have any numbers.

Over, under, through

An underpass in Moncton, left, and Fredericton. (Google Maps)

An overpass is the term used when a main highway crosses over a lesser road. If a lesser road crosses over a main highway, the highway feature is an underpass.

There's been some confusion about what to call the road that will be dug underground to produce what might commonly be considered tunnels.

According to Bill Fraser, the minister of transportation and infrastructure, the confusion over terminology extended into the department.

"The way it was originally described to me it was a tunnel under the road," said Fraser.

"But essentially, technically, it's an underpass."

There are lots of underpasses in the province, often the result of bridges or other roads being built over existing infrastructure. The lower surface is still above ground.

Examples would include the underpass at the intersection of Waterloo Row, Brunswick Street and University Avenue in Fredericton, or the Main Street underpass, often called the subway overpass, in Moncton.

The Napan project would be different because it calls for digging under existing road.

Still, Fraser said there are several examples of the underpass-style planned for Napan, although he wouldn't cite any.

"I don't have some specific examples to share," he told CBC News.

The Napan River runs through Napan, between the two roads, and it could require a bridge. 

Why bypass?

The province will soon be able to boast about a tunnel, possibly its first — or about its latest underpass, depending on how you look at what the government is up to near Napan. 1:05

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs said he thinks news of the tunnels, although not formally announced, is another example of the Gallant government being in election mode.

"It seems like the government is spending a lot of time going around the province trying to deflect from the real issues of our province and their record," Higgs said.

Higgs also questioned the wisdom of the bypass, with or without tunnels, saying the government should invest in existing infrastructure and not build new roads that bypass communities.

"We're seeing our communities suffer, we're seeing our retail businesses in communities suffer," he said.

One of the people affected by the bypass is Laurie Patterson, who owns Paterson Sales and Service in Napan.

His business is located on the existing Route 11 but would be bypassed by the new route.

He said the move would hurt his business, as well as his neighbours' businesses.

"There's two restaurants on this stretch of road," said Patterson. "The traffic's just not going to be there for them."

Patterson said the idea of a bypass of any kind isn't popular in the community.

"The people have no say ... if there was any say in it that road would never be built," Patterson said.

What's in a name?

The original plan would've seen two overpasses built over the North and South Napan roads, now these overpasses would be replaced with tunnels. (Government of New Brunswick)

Higgs, who was finance minister in the David Alward government, said he had not heard any talk of tunnels when the previous government was exploring improvements to Route 11.

He also thinks the change from "tunnel" to "underpass" has more to do with public relations than clarity.

"I would say the words have only changed to underpass in the last day or so … because there's so much reaction to 'What's this about a tunnel?'" said Higgs.

In a less than four-minute conversation with reporters in Doaktown on Friday, Fraser used the term "underpass" 12 times.

Safety concerns

Highway accidents, including collisions with moose, have been cited by the government as reasons for the bypass. (Courtesy of Beatrice Messer)

At the time the project was announced, the province cited moose-related accidents and safety issues as factors in the original bypass design, noting there were 33 collisions and seven collisions with moose between 2013 and 2015.

But Patterson said the road isn't that unsafe but could be made safer with the addition of passing lanes and a lower speed limit.

"On the stretch here they say is so dangerous, there's been one person killed in the last 15 years," said Patterson.

Regardless of safety concerns, Higgs said the bypass wouldn't solve the moose problem.

"Let's look at fencing, let's look at understanding that," he said.

"Just building more, wider highways … can't be the solution for the province."

About the Author

Jordan Gill

Reporter

Jordan Gill is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton. He can be reached at jordan.gill@cbc.ca.

With files from Catherine Harrop

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