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Grant to fix roads comes with a slight catch

SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- Municipalities in New Brunswick are lining up for one-time provincial grants for repairs on pro...

SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Municipalities in New Brunswick are lining up for one-time provincial grants for repairs on provincially designated highways even though the money comes with a catch.

Twenty community leaders are lining up to get money under the province’s new $5 million Municipal Designated Highway Grant Program. The one-time grant will allow communities to repair eligible designated highways to provincial standards.

Once the work is complete, the highway is turned over to the municipality as a municipal street for maintenance and upkeep.

The program is being criticized as just another way to download responsibilities onto the province’s cash-strapped municipalities.

Shediac/Cap-Pele Liberal MLA Bernard Richard says municipal leaders in his riding weren’t impressed with the province’s new program.

“My municipal people blasted off. They said no way are we going to get into that short-term gain, long-term pain, big time,” says Richard. “They (the municipalities) have to take on the responsibilities for these roads once they are upgraded. That’s fine for the next five or 10 years but after that, they are going to be in big trouble.”

But Lord ensured this was not the case.

“We’re not downloading these roads, we’re building them up and then the municipalities will have the responsibility for them,” he says.

Spokeswoman for the New Brunswick Department of Transportation, Tracey Burkhardt, says the 20 communities who have applied reflect the interest in the program.

“This was brought in at the request of the municipalities. What it does is it augments the amount of money we have available this year through the designated highway program,” she says.

Department of Transportation staff will evaluate each application and approve projects based on a set criteria, including the cost, the type of work needed, the existing condition of the road and the savings to the department in maintenance costs over time.

The grant program will receive $5 million from the province this year with more funds to come next year.

Funds have constantly been lobbied by the municipalities to repair the provincially designated highways that run through their communities. This year, the government has allotted $7 million for paving and reconstruction on those roads and all 106 municipalities must compete for a slice of the funds.

The province also doles out money for regular maintenance (potholes, patchwork) on all New Brunswick highways but municipal leaders say it isn’t enough to do all the necessary work.

The $5 million program is in addition to those funds.

Richard points out that even with that money, the government is still spending $30 million less on roads this year than the province did on average in the 1990s.

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