Nova Scotia’s highways department is looking into the financial feasibility of twinning about 300 kilometres of its 100 series highways.
At a construction cost averaging $5-to $6 million per kilometre for two lanes, possibly done over a five-to seven-year period, the highway improvement program would be a boon to roadbuilders across the province.
But it is unrealistic to expect the province to cover the total $1.5-to $2-billion tab, explains a department representative.
"It would take years and years for us to do it piecemeal by ourselves," said Peter Hackett, executive director, highways, engineering and construction, Nova Scotia Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (NSTIR).
Funding options through federal/provincial partnerships as well as a toll highway system are being evaluated through a feasibility study conducted by CBCL Limited, an engineering and design consultant retained by NSTIR, explained Hackett.
"The study does a variety of things, the first being to provide in-depth numbers on the actual construction costs that we could use to go to tender," he said, adding the study will be completed in April.
Preliminary alignment design would also be covered.
"The study will tell us the costs, the traffic patterns on the highways today and in the future and the amount we would be able to collect from tolls to pay off construction and maintenance costs," said Hackett.
The cost of building the new highway lanes will range, depending largely on geology. Where terrain is rocky, excavation costs are higher than for clay, but with rocky ground builders can make gravel to use in the roads, Hackett said.
Hackett said the NSTIR is in discussions with PPP Canada — the agency that supports public infrastructure projects through the public-private partnership (P3) model — over a possible provincial/federal partnership arrangement with additional funding possibly coming from a highway toll system.
In the mid-1990s the province built its first toll highway, a 45-kilometre section of the Trans-Canada Highway between Truro and Amherst.
The feasibility study is evaluating options for eight sections of highways with high congestion, defined as being close to or above the NSTIR’s threshold for twinning of 10,000 vehicles per day.
Sections already surpassing that threshold are on highways 101, 103, 107 and two sections on the Trans-Canada Highway, Hackett said.
"When it creeps up beyond that (10,000 vehicles per day) it doesn’t necessarily change the safety of the road but the efficiency of the road starts to depreciate," Hackett said, noting that vehicle passing gaps diminish.
When the feasibility study’s findings are released this spring, a series of consultations will be conducted around the province to gather opinions from the public.
"If we got the word that the government and the public had the appetite to go with this, we would do our best to get it together as soon as we could," said Hackett. "What that date would be, 2017-18, 2018-19, I’m really not sure because there would be a lot of legwork."
He said funding sources other than PPP Canada might be Infrastructure Canada’s New Building Canada Plan or through Transport Canada.
It is too early to say if the projects would fall under any plans for infrastructure renewal, as promised by the federal government during the election.
The province now has between 400 to 450 kilometres of four lane highways.