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Newfoundland to Labrador fixed link has new legs

Grant Cameron
Newfoundland to Labrador fixed link has new legs
GOVERNMENT OF NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR — The fixed link between Newfoundland and Labrador now has a price tag of roughly $2.7 billion depending on the financing arrangement which is chosen, say experts.

The idea of building a fixed transportation link across the Strait of Belle Isle that would connect the island of Newfoundland to Labrador is an ambitious venture that’s been floated for decades to no avail.

However, the project — with a price tag now pegged at up to $2.7 billion, depending on the financing arrangement — has been given new legs now that the federal Liberals have been re-elected. During the campaign, the party pledged in its platform to support the proposal in order to make travel more secure.

In the runup to the election, the Liberal platform made a very specific reference to the fixed-link project when it indicated that the party intends to move forward with a National Infrastructure Fund if elected.

“We will begin right away by supporting projects like the Newfoundland-Labrador fixed transportation link, which will give people living on the island of Newfoundland a permanent and secure way to travel to and from mainland Canada, while helping to make things like food and household goods more affordable,” the platform says. “Further projects will be identified as the National Infrastructure Fund is established.”

The link is supported by Newfoundland Premier Dwight Ball who compares it to the Confederation Bridge which links Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. He maintains the 16-kilometre link would be a nation-building project with benefits for all Canadians, but that the province can not fund the project on its own. Ball met recently with Quebec Premier Francois Legault to discuss the link and other issues.

The Liberals were the only party that mentioned the project in advance of the election. The Conservatives, NDP and Greens did not commit to a fixed link in their platforms although NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did say in a letter to Premier Ball prior to the election that the proposal deserves “fulsome study.”

The Conservatives indicated they’d prioritize critical infrastructure projects that shorten commute times and included on that list projects like the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project in B.C., Ontario Line and Yonge Subway Extension in Ontario, and a third link between Quebec City and Levi in Quebec.

Liberal politicians like Labrador MP Yvonne Jones and St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O’Regan jumped on the bandwagon, posting the party’s platform on the issue via their Twitter accounts.

“A great nation-building project. It can happen. We can make it happen,” O’Regan said of the fixed link on Twitter.

Kevin Deagle, press secretary to O’Regan, said in a statement that the MP still supports the project and expects it will be discussed soon by the federal government.

“The development of a fixed transportation link between Newfoundland and Labrador is a priority of this government, as evidenced by the Liberal Party platform from the most recent election. The Minister is fully supportive of this project and discussions regarding the project will take place once the prime minister has formed Cabinet.”

However, the project also has its critics.

Alison Coffin, leader of the provincial NDP, says she’s concerned that the federal government intends to fund the link through the Canada Infrastructure Bank, which means making it a public-private partnership.

“The province’s fiscal situation is dire, and the province could face bankruptcy,” she says. “Our energies must be focused on solving the fiscal troubles we face, not signing on for more huge megaprojects which will be multi-billion-dollar projects.

“We do not have the money. What money we may see could be put to better use. A fixed link would not be a prudent use of resources at this time.”

The province has a laundry list of important projects such as a new penitentiary, fixing crumbling infrastructure, improving health care, education, climate action, investment in jobs, and the provincial debt, says Coffin, “as well as the 50-year financial nightmare that is the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

“We would also need upgrades to roads and highways on both sides of a proposed link. We have far more pressing needs and very little in the way of financial resources.”

Coffin says the federal government, and by default the provincial Liberal government, can not call the construction of a fixed link “nation building” if it is given to a private corporation for profit.

The idea of a fixed link was first proposed in 1949 and it began generating buzz again in June after a standing committee report on a Canadian transportation strategy recommended that the federal, Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec governments work with the private sector toward building the fixed link. The federal Liberals picked up on the idea in their election platform released in September.

In 2004, a study for the government recommended a tunnel between the island and Labrador be excavated by a tunnel boring machine (TBM) with vehicles being transported on an electric shuttle train. In 2018, an independent pre-feasibility study that examined five different options for a fixed transportation link concluded that a rail tunnel excavated by a single TBM is still the most technically and economically attractive option, at an estimated cost of about $2.7 billion.

Recent Comments (8 comments)

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Paul Dunphy Image Paul Dunphy

There are also studies and evidence in other countries like Norway that suggests the “blast and retrieval” method would be a much more feasible option.

Robert Gillard Image Robert Gillard

There was an election ploy back in the early 1970s that saw cement and rebar steel landed near Flowers Cove by Chimo Shipping and equipment started to excavate for a tunnel; after the election it was short lived and the materials were used by people in the area for basements…I think there should be a fixed link to open up Newfoundland with the rest of Canada…

Carson Gibson Image Carson Gibson

This announcement is great news for NL. Labrador wound then feel connected to the island portion of the province. It will create jobs for all trades. Would be nice to keep the employees who will be laid off from Muskrat Falls in 2020 before they go elsewhere to find employment.
The present situation with the Labrador ferry would be eliminated. Tourism will benefit greatly if the fixed link is tied to the extension of route 138 in Quebec to bring it to Blanc Sablon.
I hope the federal and provincial governments are serious about this venture. It will change the lives of all concerned. It is a win-win situation.

Wayne Hollett Image Wayne Hollett

Yes, it is costly, so was the link to P.E.I. It was done?

Lewis Spencer Image Lewis Spencer

This is an opportunity for the federal government to shut down the ferry service from PAB to North Sydney. Great annual savings with not paying the present subsidy. PAB get out there and oppose this stupid idea before it’s too late.

Richard S. Image Richard S.

The greatest project since the construction of the Panama Canal

Lynda C Johnson Image Lynda C Johnson

I think it would be wonderful. It is a very long boat ride no matter which way you go.

Lynda C Johnson Image Lynda C Johnson

I think it would greatly increase tourism to the island, We have traveled both boat options one was overnight which is rather uncomfortable, and the day trip was better although arrived late in the evening. On that trip you need to make your overnight accommodations in advance.


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