“Committed to Improvements!”
MHA Tracey Perry visited Hermitage-Sandyville on February 5 and sat down with Coaster Correspondent Wesley Harris for a question-and-answer session on Route 360.
© Wesley Harris photo
It’s a slow process in getting all the necessary paving done on Route 360 – much work needs to be done such as this section just past the Hermitage junction – but MHA Tracey Perry remains committed for continued improvements.
Coaster: A lot of vitriol has been sent your way on Facebook, but amongst the criticism are several good questions. The first one: Will the $1.8 million be carried over to next year’s work on 360?
Ms. Perry: Most definitely! Actually, there was $456,000 spent in 2013 on prepatory work with culverts and ditching, but the cold weather and snow prevented the contractors from completing any more work. The remaining $1,344,000 million will absolutely be carried forward. In fact, work didn’t all get done in 10 districts in 2013, and $11 million will be carried over to 2014.
There was one other year, in 2011, when we didn’t get the contracted asphalt work done and it got carried over to 2012, but about $390,000 did get spent that year for culverts. I can assure your readers that I have lobbied strongly on residents behalf and I look forward to delivering on my commitment to get our roads improved.
Coaster: Why didn’t the three kilometers or so get done in 2013’s construction year?
Ms. Perry: The contract to do it was awarded in the summer, but as I understand it, the contractor had a large volume of work throughout the province and the cold weather came before the job could be completed. There are any number of challenges I guess – a lot did not get done this year, in ten districts, as I said. Some would say that even if we increased the budget more it would be hard to get the work done as the season is so short here, and there is a high demand for skilled workers – who tend to be mobile. To help tackle this, we need to make the industry more attractive. We have already announced $30M in roadwork so that tenders can get out early and we can extend the construction season and help retain these workers.
Coaster: With all these setbacks, has this been a frustrating year for you?
Ms. Perry: Anytime we get delays like this it is very frustrating, because I do understand the condition of the road and I share the same concerns as all residents. And again I assure you and your readers, I am “fighting” on the region’s behalf for more funding all the time. Some of the negativity has spurred me to take a historical look back, and the facts tell an interesting story. Going back to 1999 (16 years), the region has seen a total investment of about $17 million in roadwork. I have been the member for six of these years, and have received $10,431,000 of that total - which is nearly doubling the investment in a roughly half the time. Since taking office, our Government has increased the provincial roads budget from $30M to $60M annually, and we are indeed benefiting from this investment here in the Coast of Bays region, with much more to come!
Coaster: So what have some of these investments been since your tenure?
Ms. Perry: The number one priority has been route 360; the main highway which services all 6500-plus residents. Some of the achievements over the last few years include about 15 km of route 360; paving in Milltown (from the Post Office to the school); resurfacing St. Joseph’s Cove hill; resurfacing Airport Road in St. Veronica’s (this took some time, but after much work, we were successful in negotiating a 50% cost sharing arrangement with NL Hydro, which contributed $539,973); several kilometers of asphalt leveling between Hermitage and Harbour Breton, and new walkways for Francois – the only time they received provincial roads funding in about twenty years!
I remember the very first budget after I got elected I was so proud to get paving from Riffs down to St. Joseph’s Cove “gut” as we call it – that area of road was almost as bad as the Camp Ten area is now, and had been like it for years. Five kilometers got done there too. In addition, numerous culverts have been replaced in various locations throughout the district.
As well, the maintenance budget has invested heavily in repairing local problem areas, (i.e. the flood area in Belleoram). There are so many needs everywhere throughout our 22 communities, and in time, we hope to address them all.
Coaster: What is the process for laying out your requests for roadwork each year?
Ms. Perry: First of all, there are several pots of money for roadwork: The Trans Canada Highway Agreement in which our province cost-shares all work on that highway with the federal government; the Trans Labrador Highway Fund, and the Provincial Roads Program, which funds Route 360 and the other 8000 kilometers of secondary roads in this province (of which about 1000km is gravel road). So the $60million that is allotted to the Provincial Roads annually has to cover all the secondary roads in Newfoundland and Labrador. as well as culverts, ditching, piping and bridges. The Department maintains a database of all the infrastructure and its current condition, and identifies areas of greatest concern. In addition, every MHA submits his/her priorities for funding, based on consultation with constituents.
I know the most immediate needs of my district, but each year I hear from the area manager of the Department of Works, Services, and Transportation, the Joint Mayors Committee, individual municipalities, individual emails and community groups like ambulance operators. Then I meet with the Minister and go through with him the areas of highest priority – he knows about the bad roads in our area – and I always emphasize that ours is a rural area with a growing economy especially in aquaculture which causes a lot of wear and tear on our highway. Right now Route 360 is classified as a low-volume road, and I have requested to have that designation re-assessed considering the volume of heavy-load trucks servicing the aquaculture industry.
After my presentation to the Minister, my requests and those of the other 47 districts go to cabinet which makes decisions on the annual allocation for pavement provincially; every district gets so much, not exactly the same for each depending on various district needs. For example, if a bridge has to be repaired or replaced, that district will get more or if leveling is done (skimming the pavement over what’s already there) versus rebuilding the road (leveling won’t last as long). In our case, for example one culvert, four feet in diameter, cost about $200,000.00, factoring in the cost of the culvert, delivery to the site, and installation. This varies of course depending on what has to be replaced.
Coaster: Can the allocations be done a different way, say in a priority system as the opposition talks about?
Ms. Perry: We have had discussions on the priority system based on rankings where MHAs and local advocates have no say in the matter, but we’re not exactly sure how it works. Somewhere in the process a decision has to be made as to what districts are the neediest; I think that even this type of process could get political at some level. Going with a priority system would mean that some districts would get no pavement for, what, three years, five years. Would that work?
And who/what defines which road is the “worst”? For example, I have heard a member of the opposition say that route 360 is not the most dire road in the province; he names the Cape Shore and White Bay as being worse.
Also the municipalities would be affected by such a system. Many of them pave their local roads when the contractors are in their area for the provincial contracts because they can take advantage of better rates then. If there was no provincial roadwork being done for a few years, it could slow down town councils too. There are many things to consider for sure.
Coaster: I’m sure the discussion on how to allocate the money, and the complaints about 360 will continue. How thick is your skin?
Ms. Perry: Oh, it’s thick. Not as thick as a baseball mitt, but sinewy for sure (laughs). You know, the residents need to know that I am a strong advocate for the needs of our area, especially the roads, and I would like to be able to say that 30 kilometers will be done on Route 360 in 2014, but in reality that will not happen. I’m pushing for more (than in previous years) in this year’s budget because the roadwork down here requires a substantial investment, and I am committed to working for continued improvements!