Cobequid Pass weather-warning signs need expensive upgrade

The Nova Scotia government may have to pay as much as $150,000 to lay fibre-optic cable to two remote electronic Highway 104 signs to hard-wire them to the internet.

Kilometres-long cable or fibre-optic link needed to replace unreliable cellular connection

The Cobequid Pass in Nova Scotia is known for poor weather. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

The Nova Scotia government may have to pay as much as $150,000 to lay cable, likely fibre-optic, to two remote electronic highway signs on the Cobequid Pass to hard-wire them to the internet.

The current cellular connection to the Highway 104 weather-warning signs has had "ongoing reliability issues," according to Troy Webb, the northern district director for the Transportation Department. 

The connectivity issues have been sporadic, but they have been going on for years.

"We've had some issues with the technology being reliable to connect each time to an IP address. We also had some issues with the battery packs failing," Webb said Tuesday.

During storms last Tuesday and Friday, officials could not connect to the signs in order to post a warning message to motorists about terrible road conditions.

During last Tuesday's snowstorm, where part of the toll highway had to be closed, staff had to be called into service to redirect westbound traffic onto Trunk 4. Some motorists were stuck in their vehicles for hours.

Summer fix did little

Fresh battery packs were installed in the signs this summer, but the connectivity problems have persisted. Sometimes the signs must be physically rebooted to reactivate them.

Webb acknowledged that having people redirect highway traffic in storm conditions, where visibility is reduced, is a "concern."

The department is shopping around for quotes, he said, but estimates the job to lay about four kilometres of cable will be in the six-figure range.

"We'd be looking at somewhere in excess of $100,000, probably $100,000 to $150,000," he said.

The two overhead signs were installed in 2009 at a cost of more than $1 million. It cost the province $81,000 simply to run power to the two remote sites, one near Oxford and the other outside Masstown. 

Although the department would like the work done "as soon as possible," Webb said doing so in during winter was "not as ideal as if it was a summer activity."

He said the cost of the project might dictate when the signs could be hard-wired.