Nova Scotia Liberal Party leadership candidate Labi Kousoulis is making some election-sized promises when it comes to roads in this province.
The former cabinet minister announced on Tuesday that he will embark on an ambitious road-twinning program if he wins the party leadership and becomes premier in February. His plan would eventually see the province’s 100-series highways connected from Yarmouth to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
In an interview, Kousoulis said the work would be timed to start as current twinning projects begin wrapping up. He said the effort would improve road safety, the transportation of goods and stimulate the economy as the province tries to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19.
While it would be an expensive project, Kousoulis said now is the time for this type of work because borrowing costs are low and it would leave the province with an asset.
“I realize we’re in a deficit situation and, with my financial background, it’s something that I would work very hard to get out of, but this is not creating a structural deficit — this is an investment where there’s also a long-term return to the province.”
Kousoulis said analysis would be required before determining whether the twinning to Yarmouth would be along Highway 101 or 103. But he said he’s committed to full twinning between Halifax and Bridgewater along Highway 103. The current twinning program covers Highway 103 from Halifax as far as Hubbards.
“Connecting [Bridgewater] to the city on a safe highway would mean that people might choose to live there as they commute to Halifax, like they do now with Truro,” said Kousoulis, who also predicted it would increase property values in the South Shore community.
Only roads with at least 10,000 cars travelling a day could be considered for twinning under the initial plan announced in 2015 by the McNeil government.
Kousoulis said getting his plan completed in a timely and cost-effective fashion could mean initially leaving out certain portions if they are deemed particularly expensive or complicated to twin, citing the Canso causeway as an example.
“We don’t have a bottleneck there, so we might, for the time being, say, ‘OK, we’re going to twin up to a few kilometers from the causeway and pick up on the other end.”
In the case of certain areas, twinning might simply not be possible, he said.
Ending tolls for Nova Scotians
Kousoulis is also promising that if he becomes premier on Feb. 6, the coming spring budget will remove the Cobequid Pass toll for Nova Scotia resident vehicles. The issue has long been a bone of contention, for people from Cumberland County, in particular.
The fee would remain in place for out-of-province vehicles and 18-wheelers at least until the debt is paid off on the project, said Kousoulis.
“I don’t see a reason why we would not leave the toll on for 18-wheelers, which do primarily all of the damage to the roads.”
Tuesday’s announcement also included a pledge to build on existing efforts to bring high-speed broadband internet to all of Nova Scotia and improve cell service.
Kousoulis said the first month he spent travelling as part of the leadership campaign, before COVID-19 forced things to go virtual, illustrated to him how important it is to at least have reliable cellular service along all 100-series highways.
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