HALIFAX - The province is changing its mind on narrowing a key highway through the Wentworth Valley.
Transportation Minister Bill Estabrooks passing and turning lanes on Trunk 4 through the valley will be maintained, alleviating concerns among Wentworth residents worried about safety.
"I'm fully aware of the importance of that highway. There's no doubt the Cobequid Pass will be closed again this winter and the number one recommendation that jumped out to me is that the highway through the valley be built up to an acceptable standard so it can handle that volume of traffic," Estabrooks said Wednesday. "That highway is going to be maintained so that when (the Cobequid Pass) is closed it will be able to handle the trucks and other vehicles that will have to use it. It needs those left-turning lanes and it needs those passing lanes. They are necessary and that's the bottom line."
Estabrooks said he has accepted an invitation from Cumberland South MLA Murray Scott to meet with Wentworth residents and added the shoulders on the road will be up to standards of other roads.
The Cumberland South MLA questioned the minister about the highway project in the legislature on Monday and he's pleased with Estabrooks' commitment.
"The minister has given me his assurances that he's willing to come to Wentworth to see for himself what this could mean to the community and he's committed to meeting with residents to hear their concerns," Scott said. "I hope when he sees it he'll change his mind and get those shoulders repaved and leave the turning lanes alone."
Following recommendations by consultants Opus International that the road through the valley be maintained and fixed for use as an alternate route to the Cobequid Pass, the province announced back in August its plans to repave the highway from Mahoney's Corner to the top of Folly Mountain over several years.
However, when the tender was issued Scott was made aware of several changes including removing the passing and turning lanes and eliminating the shoulders.
"This road is a lot different than other trunk highways in that you could have 20,000 vehicles a day go through there because of an accident or weather," Scott said. "It's also a year-round truck route for the salt mine in Pugwash. I believe they're making a mistake here and my question is are they putting public safety at risk to save money?"
Scott raised the issue in the legislature on Monday and was told by the minister that the passing lanes will not be removed. He's hoping Estabrooks will also commit to keeping the turning lanes and rebuild the shoulders that have already been removed.
No date has been set for a public meeting.
Wentworth resident and county deputy warden Kathy Redmond said the minister's commitment should allay fears in the community.
"It appears as though they are going to put things back the way they were," Redmond said. "I was talking to someone at Cumberland Paving and they told me they've been told to put the shoulders back down. What will be done is what should have been done in the first place and that's pave what's there. That's just rumour though."
Redmond said the province planned to narrow the road from 11 metres to eight and remove the turning and passing lanes. Residents are concerned with the safety of the road, considering the amount of traffic.
"Traffic is still rerouted through and there are no spring weight restrictions. We have a lot of loggers hauling their loads so they can be sent to the mills. It's a safety issue," she said.
The construction is the first substantial work on the former Trans-Canada since the Cobequid Pass opened in 1997.