It won’t happen overnight, but the province’s transportation minister says twinning the Trans Canada Highway from Whitbourne to Clarenville is one of government’s plans for the future.
Currently, the TCH is twinned from Whitbourne to the capital city.
“When you look at the Outer Ring Road and the (Team) Gushue Highway and Pitts Memorial Highway, these were all put together back in the ‘70s in anticipation of what was going to grow here in Newfoundland and Labrador. So, we’ve got to be ahead of it,” Tom Hedderson said during a recent interview.
Conceptual planning for the St. John’s Outer Ring Road began in the early 1970s, and that upgrade to the Trans Canada Highway is now the busiest stretch of asphalt in the province.
According to the transportation department, the road has an average annual daily traffic flow of 30,500 vehicles per day (vpd). On peak days that number climbs to over 39,000 vpd.
Route 2 on the Conception Bay South Bypass Road comes in second with an average of 24,900 vpd, and about 32,000 vpd on peak days.
The minister says his department conducts regular traffic counts in order to form these statistics. The information is necessary, he says, to determine numerous variables including speed, traffic flow and what sections of the highway require 24-hour snow clearing.
When traffic counts along Veterans Memorial Highway in Conception Bay North increased in 2011, the minister adds, the government added that section of the road to those requiring 24-hour snowclearing.
The roads are maintained according to their traffic volumes — the more they are travelled the higher a priority they become.
The increase in the volume of traffic in several areas over the past 15 years — including the Trans Canada Highway — makes keeping the roads in good shape a challenge, the minister says.
“We don’t have a rail system and 60 per cent of our freight comes in through (the ferry service at) Port aux Basques. And when you look at a tractor trailer, my people say that’s worth about a couple of thousand cars as it moves over our highways.”
It’s not just the pavement that needs work. Minister Hedderson says bridge work along the Trans Canada Highway, including the Sir Robert Bond Bridge, which crosses the Exploits River near Bishop’s Falls, and the lift bridge in the Town of Placentia are also important projects.
Replacing the lift bridge in Placentia will cost over $30 million, the minister says.
“If we were to go forward with the Bond Bridge, half of every dollar would come from the feds," he explains.
Budget 2012 also saw an investment of $65.8 million to complete Phase I of the Trans Labrador Highway from Labrador West to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Completing the highway is one of the largest road infrastructure projects this province has ever undertaken.
The paving will be completed in two contracts that will be worked on simultaneously over a two-year period. One contract will complete paving from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Churchill Falls. The second contract will complete paving from Wabush Junction to Churchill Falls.
The provincial government will have invested approximately $252 million for this phase of the Trans Labrador Highway when it is completed.
At the end of the day, Hedderson says, the most important thing his department has to do is make all roads in this province as safe as possible.
In order to do that, he says, the government spends about $225 million every year on road construction and maintenance. A portion of this money comes from the federal government.
“Even with that quarter of a billion dollars that we invest sometimes there are carry-overs, so in any given year we don’t always get our work done.”
When asked to comment on the Canadian Auto Association (ACC) online survey that ranked five roads in rural areas of the province among the Top 10 worst roads in Atlantic Canada, the minister says the survey isn’t a significant poll.
Comparing roads in one region to another is like comparing apples and oranges, he says.
In a press release announcing the results of the survey where 3,200 people voted, CAA vice-president of communications Gary Howard said the results will help highlight the most dangerous road conditions in the region.
“By doing so, we can actively engage all necessary levels of government to encourage repairs and changes,” Howard stated.
Of the Top 20 worst roads from 2011, Howard said, 14 were repaired or are in the process of being repaired.
But Hedderson won’t be depending on the CAA to determine where roadwork money needs to be distributed.
“We have to have evidence to support where we are going with our priorities and I don’t think anyone would argue that I should be looking at the most travelled roads and our trunk roads and trying to make sure that those are up to standard.”
The province's busiest roads:
• Outer Ring Road — average annual daily traffic flow of 30,500 vehicles per day (vpd). Over 39,000 vpd on peak days. (Information accurate as of June 2011);
• Route 2 on the CBS Bypass Road — averages 24,900 vpd, but at times peaks over 32,000 vpd;
• Torbay Road — averages 15,000 vpd (and between 15,000 and 16,000 vpd from the Torbay Bypass to RCAF Road);
• Logy Bay Road — averages over 5,000 vpd;
• Route 60 in Conception Bay South — averages 15,000 vpd;
• Route 70 (Conception Bay Highway) — averages 6,200 to 15,300 vpd, depending on the location;
• Route 75 (Veterans Memorial Highway) in Conception Bay North — averages 6,200 vpd. Over 7,900 vpd on peak days.
Source: Department of Transportation
2012 Top 10 worst roads in Atlantic Canada:
1. Newfoundland and Labrador Route 360, Harbour Breton;
2. Newfoundland and Labrador Route 238, Elliston;
3. Foxbrook Road, Hopewell, Nova Scotia;
4. Mark Road, Eureka, Nova Scotia;
5. Newfoundland and Labrador Route 360, Milltown;
6. Marshdale Road, Hopewell, Nova Scotia;
7. Newfoundland and Labrador Route 434, Conche;
8. E River West Side Road, Eureka, Nova Scotia;
9. A tie between Elgin Road, Hopewell, Nova Scotia, and River Road, Eureka, Nova Scotia;
10. Newfoundland and Labrador Route 500, Western/Central Portion of the Trans Labrador Highway.
Source: Canadian Auto Association online survey