Government needs to know effects of COVID-19 before considering removal of Cobequid Pass tolls

·2 min read

Nova Scotia's minister responsible for highways says it will be at least the end of March before he can get a sense of when the tolls will be removed from the Cobequid Pass.

Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines told reporters on Thursday that plans to remove the tolls from Highway 104 have been hindered by delays in capital work the government wants to complete and a decline in revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hines said the design work for a new rest stop and maintenance depot is complete and he's hoping to know by this spring when construction will begin after some additional land needed for the work is acquired.

The pandemic has affected travel since last March and that has affected revenues from the tolls. At the end of the fiscal year the government will have a better sense of the financial picture, said Hines. There are also plans for additional capital work on the pass as part of regular maintenance before the government wants the tolls removed, he said.

"We sort of have placed everything on hold, but down the road we'll be providing a recommendation on the tolls after we come out of this unique situation that we've been into with COVID."

'Cash cow'

It's a far cry from previous promises — already abandoned — to remove the tolls before the bonds are scheduled to expire in 2026.

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Cumberland North, said the government's shifting position on the issue is an insult to people who live in northern Nova Scotia.

"Clearly, people living in Cumberland County have to pay to get to Halifax to get to medical appointments," she said in an interview.

"Our businesses continue to have to pay more to transport our goods to market, to the port of Halifax, to the airport for exporting."

Smith-McCrossin said the government is in a position to cover the balance owing on the bond now but is choosing not to do so to the detriment of people in her district and surrounding areas.

"It's a cash cow for them, but it's coming off the backs of the people in Cumberland County."