A Nova Scotia politician says traffic tie-ups caused by vessels passing through the Canso Canal this summer are becoming too disruptive for drivers on the only road linking the mainland to Cape Breton.

Allan MacMaster, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Inverness, is calling on the federal and provincial governments to rethink how passage through the Strait of Canso is prioritized and give more consideration to vehicles on the Canso Causeway.

"This is the only link by road for Cape Breton Island and the province of Newfoundland to the rest of the county and the rest of the continent," said MacMaster. 

"I think government has to be mindful of that, and acknowledge that [road traffic] should be given priority. Soon." 

Vessels given priority

Under Transport Canada's Navigation Protection Act, which is enforced at the Canso Canal by the Canadian Coast Guard, priority has been given to commercial and recreational vessels traversing the strait since before the causeway was constructed in the 1950s. 

Allan MacMaster Causeway

Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster wants federal and provincial governments to reconsider the priority of vessels passing through the Canso Canal. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

According to the coast guard's website, an average of 2,069 ships pass through the canal every year. The vast majority — 85 per cent — are vessels owned or operated by shipping companies, fishermen and the government, it said.

Locals say the length of time traffic is backed up on the causeway depends on the type of vessel passing through. A large vessel hauling coal can take up to an hour to clear the canal, while small pleasure crafts can get through in 15 minutes, they say.

MacMaster said while he understands giving priority to commercial boats, the priority for recreational vessels could be changed. 

"I think that those crossings should be limited each day, " he said. 

"People can know when they're going to be, they can be at times when [road] traffic volumes are lower, so they don't interrupt people trying to get across."

Canal use will be reviewed, says N.S.

The coast guard and Transport Canada were not immediately available for comment. 

Canso Canal Pass

Marine traffic has been given priority to pass since the causeway was constructed in the 1950s. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

However, the provincial Transportation Department, which is responsible for the swing bridge's operations, said both levels of government will work to review the opening priorities for the canal.

MacMaster also said delays from mechanical issues with the swing bridge's upgrades should be given more focus, too. In some cases this year, traffic at the causeway was held up for multiple hours. 

The provincial government said those issues are in the process of being addressed.