Liberals reject tolls in new highway twinning plan

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Liberals reject tolls in new highway twinning plan

The province's Liberal government plans to spend $390 million over seven years to improve highways in Nova Scotia, and won't be using tolls to pay for the work.

The province said it will also seek federal money to help cover the cost of the projects.

On Wednesday, the government said the money will be used to twin three different sections of 100 series highways, improve safety and construct a four-lane divided highway from Burnside to Bedford.

The three sections of highways that will be twinned are:

- Highway 101 from Three Mile Plains to Falmouth, including the Windsor Causeway. A total of 9½ kilometres.

- Highway 103 from Tantallon to Hubbards. A total of 22 kilometres. 

- Highway 104 from Sutherlands River to Antigonish, including Barneys River. A total of 38 kilometres.

In a news release, the Department of Transportation states that the sections of highway will remain open while they are worked on.

The push to twin those stretches has come after a series of fatal and serious accidents over the years. Joe MacDonald, the fire chief in Barneys River and a longtime advocate for the twinning of Highway 104 in his area, called the announcement "amazing."

"Ecstatic, I guess, is the word I would use," he said.

The money also includes $30 million for safety improvements on un-twinned portions of highway. Those improvements could include new passing and turning lanes, and alterations to interchanges.

A safety study on Highway 107 from Burnside to Musquodoboit Harbour will also be completed.

The Transportation Department said it's announcing the projects after holding provincewide consultations on highway twinning, including the potential use of tolls. The government has decided against tolls because it said it did not hear "overwhelming support" from the public for such an initiative.

"We heard several communities voice their concerns, saying tolls would create financial barriers for residents and visitors," Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan told reporters.

"We also heard numerous times that all Nova Scotians should share in the cost of creating safer highways."

The province also wants to remove tolls from the Cobequid Pass for Nova Scotia motorists, something it said could happen in 2019.

A decision about whether commercial trucks and non-Nova Scotia residents will still have to pay the toll will be made closer to 2019. The Transportation Department said it first needs to figure out the long-term maintenance and operating costs of the pass.

An election is widely expected to be called this spring. If another party comes to power, there's no guarantee it will go through with the Liberal spending plan.