New Brunswick

High traffic volumes require extensive highway repairs

The Maritime Road Development Corp. has already repaired almost 80 per cent of the Fredericton-Moncton Highway since the 195-kilometre road opened a decade ago.
Ross Mathers, the general manager of MRDC, said he believes the safety improvements are the best feature of the Fredericton-Moncton Highway.

The Maritime Road Development Corp. has already repaired almost 80 per cent of the Fredericton-Moncton Highway since the 195-kilometre road opened a decade ago, according to the company's general manager.

The four-lane highway that connects Fredericton and Moncton was built to improve the safety of the thousands of drivers who regularly travel between the two cities.

The new highway, which was officially opened on Oct. 23, 2001, has also cut down the commute by about 30 minutes.

There are roughly 34,000 vehicles per day using the highway in summer peak periods, pushing the total traffic volume to almost 1.6 million in the last two summers.

Those traffic volumes drop to about 700 vehicles per day - or fewer than 800,000 in total - in the winter low period.

The number of trucks is higher than predicted when the highway opened. But the number of cars outnumbers the amount of truck traffic by almost 3:1.

Mathers said the high traffic volumes have led to the need to repair 80 per cent of the highway, which was supposed to last until 2015.

"What surprised me? The total amount of work required to keep the highway up to date. And you can't rest," Mathers said.

The New Brunswick government entered into a public-private partnership with MRDC to construct the highway. Initially, the highway was going to be a toll road.

However, the former Bernard Lord government scrapped the tolls and when the highway opened in 2001, it was free for drivers.

MRDC operates the highway, but the provincial government pays another company for it each month, which in turn uses the money to pay the highway's lenders.

High speeds, large numbers of vehicles

The busiest section of the highway is between Fredericton and Oromocto where the average annual daily traffic count is 19,100 vehicles.

MRDC also counts so-called shadow tolls at four different locations on the highway. Its data show 349,745 cars and to 96,093 large trucks were counted in River Glade, which is near Salisbury, in June 2011.

The company says the fastest spots on the highway are near Canaan and River Glade, where average recorded speeds are 118 km/h and 119 km/h, respectively, both of which are higher than the posted 110 km/h speed limit.

The fastest 15 per cent of drivers at those two locations are driving 129 km/h.

One of the reasons the New Brunswick government pushed forward with the highway project was to boost driver safety.

The old section of the Trans-Canada Highway was responsible for an average of nine fatalities and 128 severe accidents each year.

MRDC statistics show that between 1998 and 2009 there have been 25 fatalities.

The accident rate per million vehicle kilometres on the Fredericton-Moncton Highway is 0.245, which is significantly lower than New Brunswick’s other major highways, which is 0.551.

Mathers said the best part of the highway is the number of lives saved.

"The accident stats have kept going down. At the beginning of the highway, we had a lot of accidents recorded and as people got used to driving on four-lane highways ... the accident rate declined," he said.