Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia looks at public-private effort to twin part of Highway 104

The Nova Scotia government is looking at working with a private construction consortium to twin one of the province's most dangerous stretches of road, but no tolls are planned.

Head-on collision near Barneys River occurs hours after province makes 104 twinning announcement

Two cars collided on Highway 104 near Barneys River on Wednesday, hours after the province announced it was considering a public-private partnership to speed up the road twinning project. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia government is looking at working with a private construction consortium to twin one of the province's most dangerous stretches of road.

At least 15 fatal motor vehicle crashes have taken place along the 38-kilometre section of Highway 104 between Pictou and Antigonish counties, near Barneys River, between 2009 and 2017. 

On Wednesday afternoon, hours after the announcement, two cars collided head on, in the section that is to be twinned. There were two occupants in each vehicle. There is no word on their medical condition. The highway was closed after the crash but has since reopened.

The Nova Scotia government is considering a public-private partnership to twin a 38-kilometre section of Highway 104 that runs through Pictou and Antigonish counties, including Sutherlands River.

Peter Hackett, chief engineer with the provincial Transportation Department, said a public-private partnership would see the twinning project take place within two to three years once it is put out to tender, compared with 10 years or so if the provincial government did the work internally.

"In many of our twinning projects, we do them in short segments. So we get approval for the funding, while we're waiting for approval, we do the designs up front  — we get the bridges designed, we get the road designed, the culverts designed," he said.

"When the government gives us the funding, we go out and we start building sections of highway. We build five or 10 kilometres and then we open five or 10 kilometres and so we pick away at those bit by bit."

This part of Highway 104 near Barneys River has been called one of the province's most dangerous stretches of roads because of the high number of fatal motor vehicle crashes. (CBC)

For example, it took 10 years for the province to twin a 16-kilometre section of Highway 104 at Antigonish.  

The Cobequid Pass, designed as a private-public partnership, was 45 kilometres and it took just under two years to build, Hackett said.

Charging tolls is not being considered for this project, he said.

The model under current consideration is called Design Build Finance Operate Maintain, under which the successful bidder would be responsible for all the work.

In this type of partnership, the province would pay about 50 per cent of the project's cost to a consortium up front, Hackett said. Federal infrastructure funding may pay for 25 per cent of that portion, he added.

Brian Cameron and Jim Barry helped put up crosses to remember crash victims. Community members have long called for the provincial government to twin Highway 104. (Joe MacDonald)

"The remainder [of the project's cost] would be funded by the consortium, to be paid off by the province over a selected period of time. It could be 20 years, 30 years, depending on the number we finalize."

The most recent estimates for the twinning work, if done by the government, range between $275 million and $300 million, Hackett said. He could not say what the cost would be if the work was done privately.

The winning bidder would also be responsible for maintenance and operations work on the twinned highway section.

That's a plus, Hackett said.

"The consortium builds the road to make sure that it lasts for a long period of time because they are going to be responsible to maintain and operate it for that period of time," he said.

"So if it's a 20-year cycle or a 30-year cycle we put in there, they're responsible for the risk on that road for that period of time. They want to make sure they build it to be cost effective, to get better value for money."