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Highway tolls are a fact of life


It was nearly 25 years ago when the provincial government was struggling with how to finance the construction of a new four-lane highway between Thomson Station in Cumberland County and Glenholme in Colchester.

The western alignment, as it was called then, touched off a firestorm of protest in northern Nova Scotia when it was revealed that federal money earmarked for the new highway was diverted to Cape Breton and the riding of the provincial transportation minister. In its place, residents in this part of Nova Scotia were told they would have to pay a toll to use the Cobequid Pass.

The western alignment, as it was called then, touched off a firestorm of protest in northern Nova Scotia when it was revealed that federal money earmarked for the new highway was diverted to Cape Breton and the riding of the provincial transportation minister. In its place, residents in this part of Nova Scotia were told they would have to pay a toll to use the Cobequid Pass.

There were rallies and protests against the measure and it paved the way to defeat for federal Liberal MP Diane Brushett – and certainly didn’t help her provincial Liberals in this part of the province.

But, as time went on people grew accustomed to the toll and the fact that the Cobequid Pass is a much safer highway than the former Trans-Canada Highway through the Wentworth Valley that witnessed several dozen fatalities in just 10 years.

Fast forward to 2016-17 and tolls on the Cobequid Pass are in the headlines again as the provincial Progressive Conservatives are accusing the Liberals of playing games with the payment schedule that could have seen the highway paid off quicker, and presumably the tolls removed sooner.

Coupled with that is ongoing study by the provincial government about using tolls to twin other dangerous sections of highway, including stretches of the 104 through Pictou County, the 101 through the Annapolis Valley and the 103 from Halifax to Bridgewater.

Figures released Monday indicate it could cost $2.4 billion to twin 300 kilometres of highway. That’s a lot of money for a government that’s struggling to get Nova Scotia’s financial house in order while at the same time trying to control expenditures in money vacuums like health care, education and Community Services.

It appears as though the only way these highways will get built, hopefully resulting in safer, more efficient highways, is by having motorists share in the cost through tolls. It’s something no government in its right mind would consider 15 years ago – considering all the uproar surrounding the Cobequid Pass.

While no one likes shelling out money to drive the 100-series highways it’s becoming very apparent that tolling is the future and it’s something most will accept knowing they can travel without the fear of facing traffic coming the other way.

As for the Cobequid Pass, as much as we would love to see its tolls go the way of the dinosaurs, reality is that 44-kilometre stretch of highway is much safer than before and the revenue it is generating will go a long way toward maintaining that highway and helping the province’s financial picture for many years to come.

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