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Highway twinning and tolling discussed in Digby

Public consultations on Nova Scotia's Highway Twinning Project have been happening across the province. One happened in Digby Mar. 8, and twinning and tollsacross the province were the topics up for discussion.
Public consultations on Nova Scotia's Highway Twinning Project have been happening across the province. One happened in Digby Mar. 8, and twinning and tollsacross the province were the topics up for discussion.

DIGBY, NS - Highway twinning and tolls were discussed at the Highway Twinning Public Consultation in Digby Mar. 8, and many people showed up to have their say.

The meeting began with a presentation from a panel of officials involved in the twinning project, who discussed the reasons behind constructing twinned highways.

A twinned highway would mean at least two sets of opposing lanes separated by a median, which is commonly grass. The panel presented different areas across the province that had been twinned and where safety has been increased.

Their presentation said twinning allowed for 23 fewer accidents on Highway 103, and 16 fewer on Highway 104, in one year.

The panel was supportive of twinning across the province, however Digby residents were not. Over the entire night, fewer than five people spoke in favour of twinning, and only two spoke in favour of tolls.

The meeting began with a presentation from a panel of officials involved in the twinning project, who discussed the reasons behind constructing twinned highways.

A twinned highway would mean at least two sets of opposing lanes separated by a median, which is commonly grass. The panel presented different areas across the province that had been twinned and where safety has been increased.

Their presentation said twinning allowed for 23 fewer accidents on Highway 103, and 16 fewer on Highway 104, in one year.

The panel was supportive of twinning across the province, however Digby residents were not. Over the entire night, fewer than five people spoke in favour of twinning, and only two spoke in favour of tolls.

The meeting, held at the Digby Fire Hall, showed many people eager to raise their concerns.

1.    Unnecessary expense tolls would create for poorer, rural areas

Charlotte Sabean, who attended the meeting with her two kids Luca and Layla, said Nova Scotia has a very high rate of illness and chronic illnesses, with many people driving back and forth to hospitals.

“Tolls would just create another burden for them when travelling to hospitals for appointments,” she said.

Another speaker said “we’ve already put so much money into the highways, but it all went to improvements around the city. Why should we, in rural areas, have to pay more when it’ll only go there again?”

Charlotte Sabean with kids Luca and Layla. Sabean does not want to see tolls. She says Nova Scotia has a huge rate of chronic illness, and that people travelling back and forth to hospitals would be further burdened by the extra cost tolls would present.

2.    Amount of years tolls will exist for

Several speakers expressed doubts that tolls would be temporary.

“How do we know that tolls won’t be there for many years to come?” asked one speaker. “We’ll start by paying for the construction, but once that’s done we’ll keep paying for the upkeep.”

Another speaker agreed, saying “Tolls in the United States are basically permanent, and we don’t want that here.”

One person said that while highway tolls would be a no-go, there are certain spots, like bridges and causeways, where she agrees they should remain.

“I’ve always thought removing the toll at the Canso Causeway was one of the worst decisions our government ever made,” she said.

The panellists said the study was based on a 30-year period, so if tolling was installed, it would exist for that long. The idea behind tolling, according to the study, is that it would speed up the process of twinning construction by increasing funds towards the project.

Alan and Joan Ross, who had much to say on twinning and tolling. Both believe long passing lanes are a better answer than twinning, and would not support tolls.

3.    Viability of long passing lanes as an alternate solution

Joan Ross, who drives to Halifax twice per week, wonders if twinning is necessary, and said “if traffic is only heavy twice per day, why is twinning so necessary?”

Another speaker, who was a truck driver, said passing lanes are on long hills, where trucks typically slow down. “This is the only area where cars really need to pass us,” he said.

4.    Current conditions on highways should be fixed first

One person stood up and said “current conditions of highways across Nova Scotia need to be improved before we think about upgrading these roads by twinning,” and the room erupted in applause.

Another person agreed, and said “Nova Scotia highways are full of potholes and bad conditions that create accidents. This needs to be dealt with.”

Bruce Fitzner, a member of the panel, answered, saying "95 per cent of accidents have nothing to do with highway conditions, but rather are caused by distracted drivers."

The panel at the discussion, which presented the project before the night was opened for discussion. They said tolls were not a be-all-end-all, and that they will only be installed if the public supports the notion.

5.    Will the twinning project really increase safety

Fitzner expanded his comment regarding distracted drivers. He said twinning makes highways “more forgiving,” and reduces the number of head-on collisions.

Speakers had other issues with whether twinning really does increase safety, with one reminding people that “autonomous cars will soon eliminate human error”, and that twinning would be “irrelevant once they’re on the road.”

Another speaker suggested tougher penalties for reckless driving could be the solution, and that it would “tell drivers to smarten up.”

Another speaker wondered if tolls installed to facilitate highway twinning would push people to avoid highways altogether, and increase traffic on routes, such as Route 1.

“If this happened, the tolls would be pointless and the routes would be really dangerous to drive on,” he said.

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