With a $50M price tag, Team Gushue Highway completion unlikely to happen soon
Province looking at more direct freeway-style route with modern interchanges
The Department of Transportation and Works estimates it will cost $40 million to $50 million to finish the Team Gushue Highway extension in metro St. John's, with a more direct route and modern interchanges to connect to other roadways.
But it doesn't appear the work is going to happen any time soon.
The province is strapped for cash, and all federal money committed to the project has already been spent.
"We're really going to have to review where we are coming into this year's budget and subsequent budgets," Transportation Minister Steve Crocker told CBC News.
"So right now, I would not hazard to guess if this is something that the province would be able to afford to do in the immediate future."
Crocker said he met with his federal counterparts earlier this year, hoping to get Ottawa on board to boost its financial contribution to the project.
But that was before COVID-19.
"The pandemic has certainly put us in a situation where those talks right now aren't something that's happening on a regular basis," Crocker said.
That $40- to $50-million price tag is contained in a Department of Transportation and Works briefing note obtained by CBC News through access to information.
Crocker says it includes the costs of modernizing the planned highway. The original blueprint goes back decades.
"If you think back to the original designs of Team Gushue, things like Galway and even Southlands, to some point, were not contemplated," Crocker said.
Team Gushue now begins at the Outer Ring Road and currently goes as far as Topsail Road.
It will eventually connect to Route 2 (Pitts Memorial Drive) and Route 3 (Robert E. Howlett Memorial Drive, also known as the Goulds bypass road).
The old plan involved using Brookfield Road, making part of it a cul-de-sac, and connecting to other highways using a series of ramps and either lights or roundabouts.
"What we'd like to be able to do going forward is have more of a freeway, or a direct connection right into Route 2, Route 3," Crocker said.
The would include replacing an existing aging overpass in the area to have a "more modern interchange," he said.
Crocker said the department has commissioned a study on traffic patterns to help in the decision-making process, but he has not yet received the final report.
Project plagued by past delays
The first section of the highway was opened in 2006, and covered 2.3 kilometres from the Outer Ring Road to Kenmount Road.
Ottawa agreed to pick up the tab for half of the $45 million in eligible project costs to complete the 7.3-kilometre extension.
Crocker said $59 million has been spent so far, but the extra amount includes things like larger overpasses and adding an access point at Brier Avenue.
The project faced years of delays. Finally, in December 2018, a four-kilometre stretch between Kenmount Road and Topsail Road opened.
The province is, in theory, facing a time crunch to complete the project. The latest in a series of amendments signed with Ottawa extended the terms of the agreement to March 2022.
But Crocker said it's not unusual for the province to seek and receive deadline extensions, and suggested that could happen again, to finish the last three kilometres or so.
"Our financial situation would certainly play a role in going any further with this project at this time," he said.