Highway 101 is getting a $17.5-million upgrade, despite losing its reputation as Nova Scotia's deadliest highway.

The federal and provincial governments announced the spending commitment Friday, saying the project will create hundreds of jobs and improve road safety.

The highway runs from Halifax to Yarmouth via the Annapolis Valley. The money will be spent on new passing lanes between Coldbrook and Kingston, a 40-kilometre stretch of road.

Premier Rodney MacDonald said the work will start this year and be completed in 2010.

"We're putting the shovels right into the ground," MacDonald said at a news conference in Berwick, flanked by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Highway 101 was once known as Nova Scotia's deadliest highway. Recently, that moniker has gone to Highway 103 along the south shore, where 10 people died last year.

According to the provincial Department of Transportation, 29 people have been killed in crashes on Highway 103 since 2006, compared to 14 on Highway 101.

An online petition calls on the provincial and federal governments to twin Highway 103 between exits 5 and 13, and upgrade the road to Exit 19 by 2010.

Bridgewater Mayor Carroll Publicover and other mayors in the area have been working on a committee that has been lobbying for improvements to the road.

"We certainly will want to redouble our efforts," Publicover told CBC News. "The fatality rates compare or are more alarming on the 103 than they are on the 101. We're not sure why things are moving along quicker on the Annapolis Valley side than they are on this side, but we'll be heard."

Harper said he has heard about the crashes on Highway 103.

"We all understand that it's terrible news for the families," the prime minister told reporters.

"Obviously, we work with the province to make sure that we're addressing the projects that are most ready to go right now. This has been the priority the province and ourselves have identified immediately. It doesn't preclude other funding announcements."

MacDonald said planning is underway to upgrade Highway 103.

Meanwhile, more work continues to twin parts of Highway 101. In December, an 11.8-kilometre stretch of twinned road between Falmouth and Avonport was officially opened.

With files from the Canadian Press