Opposition questions whether Cornwall bypass is necessary
Liberals say perimeter highway is good for economy and safety, but PC, Green MLAs not so sure
P.E.I. Transportation Minister Paula Biggar was peppered with questions from Opposition MLAs on Thursday about the Cornwall bypass.
The province is billing the $65-million project as one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Island history, but Opposition members who attended the standing committee on infrastructure and energy Thursday wonder if it should be happening at all.
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The Liberals have put forward two main justifications for the perimeter highway: safety and economic impact.
However, officials haven't provided data showing if the accident rate there is higher than in other areas, and the provincial government has not carried out an economic impact analysis.
'No debate on it'
Sidney MacEwen, MLA for District 7: Morell–Mermaid, said the PCs aren't necessarily against the bypass, but he questions the government's priorities.
"We know that there's other construction projects that will have to be impacted down the road if we're spending this much on it," he said.
He also questioned why the expensive project went ahead without being included in last fall's capital budget or the government's five-year capital plan, or even being mentioned in the legislature.
"It's $65 million, we haven't heard anything about it in any of the House sessions, no debate on it, all of a sudden it's popped on the public and we're wondering is it the priority right now for the government," he said.
'Any urban centre would laugh'
Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said he's lived in other areas in Canada and Scotland, and drives through Cornwall every day to get to work.
"Any urban centre would laugh at the notion we have a traffic problem in Cornwall," he said. "I am almost never held up for more than 30 seconds. It's not bumper-to-bumper traffic. Things move smoothly through there, and I think the safety issue that was brought up was really questionable."
MLAs also argued businesses along the existing road including gas stations could be negatively impacted.
In reply, Biggar told CBC News that only about 6,000 of the 25,000 vehicles that move through Cornwall each day are expected to use the bypass. She also noted the economic impact of the construction itself.
Criticism from public, too
The perimeter highway will begin at the York Point Road intersection with the Trans-Canada Highway, continue west along the north side of Cornwall and rejoin the existing Trans-Canada Highway in Clyde River.
The bulk of the construction is slated to begin in 2017 with completion expected after two years.
Biggar said the province hasn't yet received approval for federal funding for the main construction phase of the project. The province will apply for that funding in the next few weeks, she said.
Work began in early September to build two roundabouts in the North River area through to Maypoint.
It's not just politicians that have criticized the project. Some motorists have complained about traffic delays during construction, while others have complained about a lack of consultation and the lack of a timeline for affected landowners.
Biggar said negotiations for property will begin next year and land purchases will be part of next year's budget.
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With files from Kerry Campbell