New Brunswick's highway of discontent

There’s only one main artery that leads to Prince Edward Island via the Confederation Bridge, and it’s rife with potholes, patches and moose

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on August 23, 2014

The road to Prince Edward Island may be paved with good intentions, but truckers, tourists and residents travelling to and from the Island say the highway that leads to the province is in need of a major overhaul.

The roadway in question lies within the boundaries of New Brunswick. Trans Canada Highway route number 16 from the Port Elgin roundabout to the Confederation Bridge is the only main artery that connects P.E.I. to the mainland.

That means anyone wishing to access the Island by road — whether for business or pleasure — must travel this route.

But the two-lane highway has become a less than pleasant drive to P.E.I.’s iconic red cliffs and sandy beaches. Cracks and potholes often riddle the roadway. Many of these have been patched numerous times, leaving a highway reminiscent of a paved patchwork quilt.

Trucker Terry Gallant says he feels the highway is unsafe.

“When you lay patch over patch, it’s rough,” he told The Guardian.

“My biggest concern, more than a truck, is a car skidding on that type of road on a wet day… when it’s quite bumpy and the road is either slick with rain or covered with ice, it makes road conditions fairly unstable. It’s just unsafe.”

Gallant hauls loads as often as three times a day over this highway. He says the roughness caused by road damage and multiple patches is hard on his equipment.

“When it’s hard on equipment, our costs go up. And then the cost to the consumer or whoever we’re trucking for also goes up because we have to pass on our costs.”

Scott Annear, chair of the P.E.I. Trucking Sector Council, echoed these concerns. The state of this highway has meant P.E.I. drivers and trucking companies have had to incur regular costs for repairs, he said.

“I don’t know if there’s a formula of what my repair bills go up, but I know my springs and everything wear out quicker when the roads are rough,” Annear said. “They’ve got to focus on some of these roads.”

Both Annear and Gallant cited concerns over how this rough road could also affect P.E.I.’s important and lucrative tourism industry.

“It’s unacceptable for a main highway leading to a province to have this type of road,” Gallant said.

The P.E.I. government has been in talks with officials in New Brunswick to find out where this roadway lies in their list of infrastructure priorities.

Premier Robert Ghiz even raised it with N.B. Premier David Alward during the last Council of Atlantic Premiers meeting in May.

P.E.I. Transportation Minister Robert Vessey says he too has been in discussions with his New Brunswick ministerial counterpart, as have road engineers in both provinces.

But when asked directly what he would like done with this highway, Vessey remained diplomatic, citing that it falls within another province’s jurisdiction and that he has his own roadways to attend to.

But he did acknowledge the state of the highway is one of concern.

“Everybody wants to see smooth roads and safe roads, and I’m sure their government would be no different than ours on that,” Vessey said. “They are making improvements to that section, and I’m sure they will continue to do that.”

Indeed work has begun on one part of this roadway — 2.5 kilometres from the Port Elgin roundabout toward the Confederation Bridge has been shaved and is being repaved.

Micheal Olscamp is the MLA for the area. He pointed to over $5 million that has been spent over the last four years in upgrades to this stretch and to highway 15, which extends from the Port Elgin roundabout to Moncton, where many Islanders regularly travel to shop.

“I’ll admit that stretch, especially at the traffic circle, was deplorable but that’s being rectified as we speak,” Olscamp said.

But the state of the highway itself is not the only concern for motorists in the area.

Moose collisions are a frightening and common occurrence along the 20-kilometre stretch between the bridge and Port Elgin. Between 2006 and 2010, there were 37 accidents involving moose in this area.

Marilyn McQuaid of Grand River knows first hand how devastating such a collision can be.

She was travelling with a vanload of passengers along this highway eight years ago after spending the day shopping in Moncton.

Big yellow signs with moose silhouettes warn motorists repeatedly along this stretch, so she slowed her driving speed. It was about 10 p.m., a beautiful, moonlit night, as she describes it. It might be just the kind of night a moose would be out for a stroll, she had contemplated

But when she saw the big, hulking creature in her headlights, she had almost no time to react.

“I think I may have put my foot on the brake briefly, but there was just an incredible crash. The moose was flopped up on the van, then flopped back down onto the road,” she said.

“We were covered in glass because the windshield was just hanging, and the side windows were out. The hooves had come back and smashed into it. The van was completely written off.”

Mercifully, no one was hurt but the moose was killed. McQuaid said she considers herself incredibly lucky. Several people have died in similar collisions with moose along this same area.

She has since seen another dead moose along this stretch of highway, as well as a deer, and has friends who have also had close calls and one who spotted a moose running alongside their car.

Many have called for fencing to be put up along this highway, but Olscamp says this is impossible.

“Fencing is out of the question there. There are too many breaches, too many driveways,” he said. “We’ve considered it, but it’s not practical.”

About $30,000 has been spent on signage, complete with flashing yellow hazard lights, warning motorists of ‘hot areas’ for moose, and another $25,000 has been spent cutting back bush along the highway to allow drivers a better chance of spotting the animals before they enter the roadway.

But when travelling along this area at night, motorists should simply drive slowly and keep a watchful eye open.

“Anytime I go down there on political business or for events, if it’s dark, my wife and I, from the bridge up to Port Elgin, drive about 40 kilometres an hour,” Olscamp said.

As for the state of highway 16 itself, New Brunswick is currently in the early days of a provincial election campaign. Olscamp, who has been serving as his province’s fisheries minister, is pledging to have the remainder of highway 16 repaved right up to the Confederation Bridge, if re-elected.

In the meantime, he suggests people take an alternate route — the coastal highway 955, which recently received 16 kilometres of repaving.

But Mark Allen, who owns and operates Allen’s Petro Canada on highway 16, says travellers and people who live in the area want the main highway repaved.

“It’s just unacceptable,” he told The Guardian in a recent interview.

“I had a tourist come in the other day who said this was his first and last trip here. (He said) ‘This is the condition of your roads? You guys don’t really care about your people that are travelling your roads, you don’t want them here.’”

Allen has amassed a petition calling on the New Brunswick government to repave, not patch, highway 16. He planned to present it to Premier David Alward this week.

“We’ve had countless numbers of people complaining about the road and the road conditions…  It’s bad enough that you have to worry about the wildlife, now you have to worry about the potholes to boot,” Allen said.

“It’s dangerous, so they really should do something.”

 

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa