'It's brutal': South coast Labrador sounds off on leg of Trans-Labrador Highway
Driving conditions along the south coast leg of the Trans-Labrador Highway can be a bumpy topic for people who live in the area.
It's muddy, mucky and makes getting from one place to another an arduous task. Work along the route is planned for this year, but it isn't enough for those who rely on it not just to get around, but as a lifeline for supplies to reach the communities.
"It's brutal. Brutal on me and brutal on the trucks," Damien Thomas said. He runs groceries in his tractor trailer from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Cartwright every week.
"They're never going to do anything. [They say] they're going to do stuff, [but it's] a lot of empty promises…please fix the road."
Paving work from Red Bay to Charlottetown Junction was not completed on schedule last year, but the provincial government is aiming to go ahead with work this year.
It is spending more than $55 million for hard surfacing along the highway this year. However, the work does not include the section between the Cartwright and Charlottetown junctions, which has not seen much of any work since the highway went through in 2002.
"As far as I know…it's seen just little bits of patchwork. It's still narrow, it's still not upgraded for pavement," Cartwright Mayor Dwight Lethbridge said.
"It also hasn't been very well-maintained. It's just an old section of road, and the mud just comes up through whatever's left there."
The provincial government has said widening and hard surfacing the section between Charlottetown and 160 kilometres east of Happy Valley-Goose Bay is in the overall plan for the road.
But some feel it should have been done long ago.
"It's not satisfactory to have gravel road open 15 years, and then lose all the other services you had before the road that were working, and then not have road up to a good enough standard to be able to use them," Lethbridge said.
The soft highway slows things down for people getting out of their communities and for goods trying to make their way in at this time of year.
"It's disruptive to everyone's life. We're dependant on the road now. Our store here, the last two weeks has had more empty shelves than full shelves," said Lethbridge, who also owns a gas station with a convenience store attached.
The bumpy, muddy highway throws lots of uncertainty at the students and faculty at Cartwright's Henry Gordon Academy when it comes to planning trips — for school or otherwise.
"There were like six to eight inch ruts on the road," Grade 7 student Donovan Burdett said of his recent harrowing journey catching a flight to St. John's for a ball hockey tournament from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
"It was a real long drive."
"The question is always there: do we take the road or get a flight," vice principal Lindsay Lethbridge said.
Right now she is in the midst of figuring out logistics for students to attend a drama festival in St. John's in May.
Chartering a flight would be too expensive.
Scheduled flights are reserved for medical travel, so seats can't be assured until the evening before.
"[So] really when it comes down to it, we have to pick the road."
Last year, one class trip took almost nine hours to make a 400-kilometre drive from Cartwright to Happy Valley-Bay for a heritage fair, according to longtime teacher Scott Baker.
"It was axle deep in mud the whole time," Baker said. "[We got there] — after $2,300 worth of damage to my truck."
But sometimes the road isn't even an option for people with smaller cars.
"I have a Kia, so if I don't get a ride with someone else, I'm not able to leave the community because my car can't handle those roads," teacher Brittany Piercey said of her recent plans to get home to Deer Lake.
"Luckily, my co-worker has an SUV. So we're going to go in his [vehcile], but other than that I'd have to stay in Cartwright."
"Lots of evenings I'm pretty beat up after driving this road," Steve Sturge said.
He's made daily firewood deliveries to communities in the area for the past 6 years.
"One trip [is] not so bad, but if you make two or three, you're beat up at the end of the day. Your back is hurting, your kidneys are hurting, you're just poundin' it on the road. "
The road is wider and hardened in his area, but still full of potholes.
He said it takes him about twice as long as it should to make the deliveries, even when the road is dry.
He said he believes grading along the stretch he uses could begin earlier in the season.
"It should have been touched up...most places can be graded right now," Sturge said.