Canadian Consulting Engineer

Road building in New Brunswick takes its toll

ROADSConstruction of a major new toll highway in New Brunswick has reached its mid-point, even though the work has been mired in controversy. The project has raised trade union hackles and contributed...

March 1, 2000   Canadian Consulting Engineer

ROADS

Construction of a major new toll highway in New Brunswick has reached its mid-point, even though the work has been mired in controversy. The project has raised trade union hackles and contributed to one government’s fall from power.

The new highway between Fredericton and Moncton, will replace 40 per cent of the existing Trans Canada Highway through the province when the work is completed in June 2002. Known as “the suicide alley,” the road was long overdue for upgrades. In 1997 the Liberal government contracted the Maritime Road Development Corporation (MRDC) consortium, for $945.17 million, to construct and operate the new tolled highway. The construction phase is earning MRDC $585 million. This agreement is considered the main reason the Liberals lost the provincial election in June 1999 to the Conservatives led by Bernard Lord.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and a coalition called Tollbusters saw the toll highway contract as a threat to union jobs and freedom of movement. Their public relations campaign persuaded Lord to promise to remove the tolling operations within his first 200 days in office. Public opposition to the road charge continues, and there is constant scrutiny of the project in the local press.

The highway route was determined by the province before MRDC’s work began. The main lanes will be divided along the completed 195 kilometres, with two lanes travelling in each direction.

Two high level structures are being built crossing the Saint John River. This work employs many engineers who worked on the Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Ontario-based consultants, Marshall Macklin Monaghan and the McCormick Rankin Corporation are supplying many of the construction documents while coordinating over 12 New Brunswick consulting firms.

The Maritime Road Development Consortium guaranteed it would implement environmental controls which are audited to ISO 14000 methods, but has been fined by New Brunswick courts for not meeting regulated conditions. Close by the road is an Aboriginal burial site, as well as rare forms of vegetation and watercourses that are prone to contaminated run-off.

On the portions of the highway that have opened, toll booths were operating near Moncton at a nominal fee, while those near Fredericton remain empty (the city of Fredericton wants the government to turn the booths into tourist bureaus). On March 1, the premier announced that the tolls would be lifted completely.

Report by Lauchlin Murray


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