Dusting off the toll highway debate

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Opposition Leader Darrell Dexter hit a nerve this week when he challenged the government to buy out the Cobequid Pass toll highway agreement.
In a nutshell, Dexter argued it's quite possible that the bondholder of the 1996, 30-year agreement is a victim of the U.S. economic meltdown. According to his thinking, it follows that the time is ripe for the government to buy Nova Scotia's way out of the agreement at a bargain basement price.
After all, the bondholder is making a fortune on tolls and shall continue to do so for the next 18 years.
Dexter's concept looks really good on the legislature floor, particularly in these parts. Motorists in Colchester and Cumberland counties are the majority users and it costs them $4 each time they travel the 44-kilometre stretch of road. And to really rub salt in the wound, it's the only section of the Trans-Canada Highway in the country where motorists are required to pay a toll.
It's even more painful for truckers. It is mandatory for those driving the big rigs using the Newfoundland to Ontario corridor to travel the Cobequid Pass. Part of the deal signed 12 years ago forbids them from using the free alternate Route 4 through the Wentworth Valley.
The Opposition leader alleged that the MacDonald government missed a glorious opportunity to make an attractive deal and get the province out from underneath "these Fifth Avenue financiers."
However, Transportation Minister Murray Scott was quick on the rebuttal. He is the MLA for Cumberland South and the toll road cuts into the heart of his constituency.
Scott says the troubled CIT Financial is merely the representative of the bondholder and if any kind of deal could be made it would be for full value at more than $100 million and the province cannot afford that kind of money.
The Cobequid Pass is a product of a 1990s Liberal government that decided on a toll highway in terms of expediency. Private enterprise could construct the Colchester-Cumberland link faster and more efficiently than the public sector.
The bottom line is we are stuck with the deal unless the province wants to pay out a huge amount of money that the public purse can ill afford.

Organizations: Trans-Canada Highway, CIT Financial

Geographic location: U.S., Nova Scotia, Colchester Cumberland Newfoundland Ontario Wentworth Valley Fifth Avenue Cumberland South

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