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Improvements must continue on Cobequid Pass

An electronic billboard on Highway 104 near Masstown, intended to warn motorists of road conditions on the Cobequid Pass has been shut down in recent while because of technical issues.
File photo

When the former Liberal government of John Savage announced in the mid-1990s it would build a new toll highway between Thomson Station in Cumberland County and Glenholme in Colchester County it was told the highway was being built in the wrong place.

During public consultations, the government was told the path over Westchester Mountain was higher, snowier, rainier, foggier and windier than what was then the existing Trans-Canada Highway through the Wentworth Valley – a highway that had seen more than 50 fatalities over a 10-year period.

Yet, the government went ahead with the project knowing twinning the highway through the valley was not an option and the so-called northern route, closer to Tatamagouche, would not have prevented vehicles from continuing to use the highway through Wentworth.

Since it first opened in 1997, the Cobequid Pass has been a safer highway with fewer fatalities simply because there is almost no risk of head-on collisions – something that was a frequent occurrence in the Wentworth Valley.

Saying that, the highway continues to be a source of frustration because of weather. Several times over the years since 1997 the highway has been closed and motorists stranded by bad weather. What’s interesting is that most of these sudden closures and strandings have occurred in November when the traveling public has yet to become acclimatized to winter weather and Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal’s winter crews have not been fully mobilized.

The biggest of these was in 2008 when a sudden storm caused transport trucks to block the westbound lane of the highway and left motorists stranded on the highway – some for 12 to 14 hours.

At the time, the PC government of Rodney MacDonald and then transportation minister Murray Scott implemented a number of recommendations that were intended to ensure traffic would given lots of notice of hazards ahead and a plan was supposed to have been put in place to get motorists off the highway in a timely fashion.

Eleven years later and we are continuing to have problems on the highway. Last year, in 2018, a November storm left motorists stuck on the highway for a couple of hours. The same thing happened two years ago and yet again, on Nov. 8 motorists were stuck on the Cobequid Pass for several hours because of poor road conditions.

Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal says it has made changes to quickly get traffic off the highway when crashes or road conditions block vehicles. It says warning signs at boths ends of the highway have been repaired so motorists should get plenty of notice before entering the tolled section of the highway. But, yet, we still have these issues early November.

Fortunately, these incidents have not led to tragedy and the only thing that has been frayed during these conditions has been nerves. However, as one motorist pointed out, government cannot continue kicking the can down the road and must make changes so there is effective communication between TIR, the highway corporation, RCMP and EMO to close the highway in a more timely fashion to prevent any bottlenecks from developing and to get motorists off the highway as soon as possible.

Government says it is reviewing what took place on the Cobequid Pass during the most recent incident, and even though things may have improved greatly since 2008, it can’t hurt to make alterations and improvements before one of these November storms and closures causes a fatality. It’s better to ask questions before than to ask what happened after.

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