BARNEYS RIVER – A local fire chief says its scares him to think of how many people have died on a stretch of Trans Canada Highway in his district.
After responding to another fatal accident this past winter, Barneys River Fire Chief Joe MacDonald recently pleaded with the provincial government to make twinning a priority between Pictou County and Antigonish.
“I am fire chief of the Barneys River and District Volunteer Fire Department. I am writing you today asking you to start planning a strategy to have Highway 104 east of Sutherlands River twinned ASAP,” he said in the letter. “Over my career as a volunteer firefighter, it scares me on how many people have died or were seriously hurt on the Trans Canada Highway thru my district. “
MacDonald said there have been nine fatal accidents on the stretch of highway that his department covers in the past five years. The most recent involved a young Cape Breton man who had just graduated high school early and was ready to attend a Newfoundland university.
“I hope you see the need of twinning this stretch of deadly road ASAP even if it has to be a toll road. How many more people have to die? I do not know how many more people we can scrape off this highway,” he said.
MacDonald said he knows that when the alarm goes off for call, the news is never good, but when it sends them to the highway, his firefighters are expecting the worst.
“In 2010, we had a run of bad accidents out there,” he said. “They are not just hour-long incidents. With the oil tanker truck accident in 2010, we were there for 12 hours. It takes a big toll on the emotions of the firefighters and their families.”
He said all fire department members are trained to assist at motor vehicle accident sites, but sometimes it’s difficult to leave it all behind.
“In 2010, we had a critical incident debriefing and it made us realize in no way were we responsible for the accident, but you are always second guessing yourself. You are always thinking, ‘I could have done this. I shouldn’t have done that.’”
As Barney Rivers fire chief for the past 20 years, MacDonald said in the early years, the accidents often took place closer to Marshy Hope, but now they are occurring more regularly in his district, between highway exits 29 and 27.
MacDonald said he can’t explain the shift, but knows it only takes a second for a head-on collision to occur.
“Everyone thinks they know the cause of an accident, but it could be anything. It could be someone texting or someone just looking away for a second or two.”
Pictou East MLA Tim Houston brought MacDonald’s concerns to the legislature last week, asking if the province was going to make the twinning of this stretch of highway a priority.
“The stretch of Highway No. 104 between Sutherlands River and Antigonish is one that has seen many devastating accidents,” he said. “Students travelling to St. F.X., tourists, residents, and even the minister use this stretch of highway pretty regularly. In the past five years there have been more than 65 motor vehicle accidents and nine fatalities on that stretch of highway, but despite all this there is no mention of the twinning of this section in the department's five-year highway improvement plan.”
Nova Scotia’s Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan responded by saying phase two of the twinning project will be finished in 2016, and from this point on discussions will continue with the federal government in regard to receiving funding from the Building Canada Fund.
He said phase one of the twinning project came with a price tag of $75 million so the province needs the federal government support to continue with the project.
“We certainly have to get creative as a government on how we complete those projects. Again, safety is first and foremost for us. Twinning is the Cadillac version of what we can do for road safety so we do as much as we can. We'll endeavour to let Nova Scotians know – certainly the Legislature, but all Nova Scotians – what projects we've endeavoured into conversations with the feds with respect to Building Canada,” he said.