SAULNIERVILLE, N.S. - Ira-Paul Saulnier, a driver with J.D. Excavating in Saulnierville, N.S., drives in what he calls the "forgotten" regions of Nova Scotia. In his 36 years of trucking, he says the...
SAULNIERVILLE, N.S. – Ira-Paul Saulnier, a driver with J.D. Excavating in Saulnierville, N.S., drives in what he calls the “forgotten” regions of Nova Scotia. In his 36 years of trucking, he says the roads in southwestern Nova Scotia are the worst he’s ever driven on. South of New Minas on the north shore and south of Liverpool on the south shore, Saulnier describes the roads as in total disarray, poorly maintained with few warning sign for curves in the road – not to mention the lack of rest areas.
“Most highway drivers from outside the area have to pull over on the shoulder, leaving them partly on the roadway,” Saulnier told Truck News. “The Department of Transportation makes such a fuss over truck safety, but the roads that we have to drive on take a huge toll on the trucks. It’s to a point where it’s almost impossible to keep up with the maintenance.”
Saulnier lists highways 8, 10, 101 and 103 as just a few of the many roads in need of repair.
So where do you turn when you have a complaint like Saulnier’s?
Dan Davis, director of communications and public affairs for Department of Transportation and Public Works in Nova Scotia, is as a good place as any.
When Davis was faced with queries about the condition of the province’s roads, he first shared the positive things going on with Nova Scotia’s infrastructure. Not only has the department’s budget increased each year since 2000, the roads have also enjoyed an increase in customer satisfaction, according to annual queries conducted by the province. Though changes aren’t being made in leaps and bounds, progress is still progress, says Davis.
“Things are improving; there is more money going into the system. This season we’ll see more funding than even last year,” he said.
“The construction road builders are working hard and pretty well at maximum capacity in this province.”
However, Nova Scotia still suffers from a considerable infrastructure deficit. The problem, Davis says, starts in Ottawa.
“Every province has similar trouble trying to maintain and build new roads with a limited amount of money. We need to get Ottawa to put more money back into the roads. They only put a fraction of gas tax revenues back into the province,” he says.
Over the last five years, the federal government has collected about $140 million per year in fuel tax in Nova Scotia, but only re-invested about $5.5 million – just four per cent. The province’s need for federal re-investment is great, according to Davis.
“That money would go to help improve roads like Hwy. 101 and other major routes that belong to the province – there’s definitely more needed,” Davis says.
On the other hand, the Nova Scotian government contributes more than its fair share when it comes to putting money back into the province’s roads. About $256 million in fuel tax is collected by the province annually, but about $307 million is spent on infrastructure.
“Everyone wants to see better highways…and the people in Nova Scotia should know that the money we are putting into the fuel tax we are putting completely back into the highways,” Davis said.
“We’re doing a lot to keep the highways maintained and to improving the system; with more pavement, better-designed highways and safer intersections.”
But even if the province reinvests over and above what it takes in tax, Saulnier still feels the money isn’t being evenly distributed. He says the north end of the province seems to get all the road repairs and maintenance, including parts of Hwy. 104 and 118 that have been recently repaved.
Davis says that though people may perceive such an imbalance, there is such a great need for repair across the province that it’s difficult to cover all areas at once – especially given the scarce funds available. The highways receiving the highest amount of funding often bounce around from region to region every year based on an annual list of priorities made by the Department of Transportation. Again, Davis stresses the great need for more funding from the National Highway System to cover all regions effectively.
Though Saulnier’s concerns over lack of road signs and rest areas are more safety issues than maintenance ones, Davis still encourages drivers to contact his department with any problems that have to do with the road.
“These aren’t complaints we’ve heard much about, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in them,” Davis says. “We wish people would call or e-mail us with complaints so we can address them directly.”
But the public needs to understand that Nova Scotia’s infrastructure isn’t going to change overnight. A study was completed in 2001 which indicated that $2.4 billion would be needed to completely fix the province’s roads – a figure Davis says is probably now closer to $4 billion.
“We know what we’re dealing with and we know how much we need, but it’s a huge figure in a province that doesn’t have a surplus,” Davis said.
“We do get people who tell us about things that are in disrepair and of course there’s 22,000 kilometres of road that we manage in this province. There’s always something that we’re working on and there’s always something we need to get to, but there’s a limited amount of money. We’re doing the best that we can with the available funds.”