N.S. paving crew more expensive than private sector

The provincial government's chip sealing crew costs thousands more than the private sector.

The provincial government's chip sealing crew costs thousands more than the private sector.

After the inaugural season last year, the government's crew cost $49,000 per kilometre compared to $40,000 for the private sector.

The Department of Transportation mobile $3.5 million asphalt plant will pave between 90 and 125 kilometres of roads this summer in areas where it says private road builders are deemed too expensive.

"Our focus is in areas where we didn't see competitive pricing," said Jane Fraser, the department's acting deputy minister.

Fraser was speaking after she and other department officials briefed the Legislature's public accounts committee Wednesday on the province's re-entry into the road construction business after an 18-year absence.

In 2011, the NDP government created an 11-member chip sealing crew because it said private road builders were overcharging the government for chip-sealing in some parts of the province.

Department officials said the crew was a success because it forced private road builders to lower their prices.

"They went from a tendered price of $91,000 to $40,000 per kilometre. They dropped by more than half. We believe that is the direct result of the competition of having our crew in place,"  Fraser told the legislature committee.

Private sector disagrees

Road builders and Nova Scotia's opposition parties dispute the department's claim, saying tender prices would have dropped anyway.

"At a time when they are cutting health and education, the government is paying more than it should for chip sealing," said Liberal MLA  Andrew Younger.

Despite the criticism, the government is not going to reverse its policy.

Fraser said the province is seeing lower paving tenders as well but more "competitive tension" with its new in-house asphalt paving operation is needed.

"We're still seeing 83 per cent of the tenders are from three bidders or less," Fraser said.

The mobile asphalt plant will work this summer in Kings, Shelburne, Annapolis, Guysborough, Richmond and Inverness Counties.