Nova Scotia

On top of Cape Smokey, crews blast a mountain to widen Cabot Trail

A major road work project on one of the steepest, most precipitous climbs on the Cabot Trail is almost finished.

$11M upgrade to stretch of steep, winding road should make route safer for drivers

The upgrading of a three-kilometre stretch of the Cabot Trail on the southern slope of Cape Smokey is almost complete. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

A major road work project on one of the steepest, most precipitous climbs on Cape Breton's Cabot Trail is almost finished.

Work to upgrade three kilometres of road on the south side of Cape Smokey near Ingonish, N.S., began last year, and had traffic down to one lane on the south slope of the mountain for much of the summer.

"This project ... is probably one of the biggest and most challenging projects on the Cabot Trail," said Trevor Partridge, a superintendent for Zutphen Contractors and site supervisor for the Smokey project. He said they're often working near steep drop-offs. 

"You're working machinery on the side of them," he said. "You have to be competent in what you're doing and focused on your task."

Crews had to work carefully with the heavy machinery on narrow roads and steep slopes. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Drivers familiar with Smokey can visualize the ocean far below the narrow two-lane roadway with its sharp turns, and steep inclines and the smell of burning brake pads.

The $11 million upgrade and realignment project involved smoothing out some of those turns, including the hairpin bend at the bottom.

"You'd know it because if you went too fast you wouldn't make it," said Alex Small, a project engineer with the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

"The guardrail was always damaged from the trucks that were trying to make it. So now there's going to be a much smoother transition coming around there."

The Smokey project 'is probably one of the biggest and most challenging projects on the Cabot Trail,' says the site supervisor. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

The project also involved blasting into the mountain to widen the road from six meters to almost nine meters.

"We were limited on how wide we could make the road out toward the water end, so the mountain was about the only way," said Small.

The rock coming off the mountain was more brittle than expected, so more of it had to be removed to scale the faces safely.

"In the original design we were going to have a very steep slope," said Small. "But the nature of the rock and the way it was fractured, we couldn't do that. We had to go back into the mountain a lot more to reduce the slope on it just to make sure that we weren't going to have rock coming down onto the road."

The project has also added new steel guardrails, active transportation lanes, and a scenic lookoff.

The paving should be finished by the end of the week and the whole project should be wrapped up by the end of October.



Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at