Miramichi MLA Michelle Conroy thanks government for listening to the PANB and cancelling the bypass from Miramichi to Glenwood. MLA Harris is critical of the decision, citing safety and economic impacts.
With the release of the Capital Budget by the government this week, New Brunswickers get a glimpse of the type of austerity and decision making it can expect from the minority leadership of the Blaine Higgs lead Progressive Conservatives.
Higgs trimmed capital spending by one-third, down to $600 million, and to achieve that cancelled projects such as a new museum in Saint John, a new courthouse in Fredericton, and the controversial Miramichi to Glenwood bypass on Route 11.
Two of Miramichi’s MLAs took to the floor of the legislature on Wednesday to offer very differing views on the topic. Miramichi Bay Neguac MLA, and Deputy Opposition Leader, Lisa Harris questioned Higgs on the economic and safety consequences of his decision to axe the bypass. With each question, Harris became more impassioned, prompting Higgs to make a comment about the need for a paramedic in the legislature.
Harris asked Higgs to consider the consequences of his decision. “Ask the families of people who have died on Route 11 if the 50 cent dollar was worth it,” Harris pointedly said to Higgs.
Video: Harris grills Higgs on bypass decision
The bypass project was announced at a press conference in Miramichi in January 2017 (See related story HERE). The $90 million project was touted as being in the name of safety and also as an economic driver. It would reduce access points to the highway from 52 to 2, and would create 2500 jobs over the construction period. The bypass was originally proposed by a previous Progressive Conservative government, and was modified to address concerns about isolating part of Napan and businesses in the former CFB Chatham. Then opposition MLA Bill Fraser criticized the process as lacking consultation and appeared to back the concerns of businesses along Route 11 that were going to be bypassed. When he became Minister of DTI, Fraser said he was committed to better signage that would help with visibility of the bypassed businesses. Business owners saw that as a flip flop on the part of the government. A potential tunnel was also later announced as part of the construction project.
Collision Stats for Route 11
Section 1: Shediac To Kouchibouguac 71 km
Section 2: Kouchibouguac to North Black River 36 km
Section 3: King Street to North Black River 11 km
Federal MP Dominic LeBlanc was in attendance at the press conference, and recently criticized the decision to cancel the Glenwood bypass. In an interview with CBC, LeBlanc said he hoped Higgs’ decision was not political vengeance, and suggested it was irresponsible to turn down 50% funding for large projects without first informing the federal government.
“"Normally, when you pay 50 per cent of the bill you don't have 100 per cent of the decision-making authority. He didn't have the courage to tell us ahead of time." (as per CBC - LINK)
Higgs responded in the legislature by saying paying 50% of the cost for something that was not needed was not a good practice
On the other hand, Miramichi MLA Michelle Conroy rose in the legislature to congratulate the Higgs government on their decision, and thanked them for listening to the advice of the PANB who make up the minority government with the support if its three members. Conroy called the project unnecessary, and asked about a bypass around Route 8 that she says is vital when the Centennial Bridge is closed. The DTI Minister said there are looking at the Northern Bypass to be sure they make the right investments at the right time.
Video:Conroy thanks Higgs government for cancellation of Napan Bypass
Conroy said in an interview that she had been having discussions about both bypasses outside the legislature with members of the government. Conroy said there has been discussions about other ways to make Route 11 more safe, including passing lanes which she said she feels is practical. She also said that there was a misconception that there was a way to bypass Douglastown and Nordin through subdivisions, but she informed the MLAs she spoke to that there wasn’t, and there is an 8 kilometer section of highway that is going to pose a safety risk during the bridge closure if there is ever an accident blocking the Miramichi bridge. She hopes this realization helps push the government toward a decision on the Northern bypass.
In the face of other large projects being cancelled in the Capital BUdget, Conroy expressed optimism on a request for multiplex funding by the City of Miramichi. She said the government has made decisions thus far on a “need” basis and not on a “want” basis. The multiplex project has been categorized as a need by the city that would be cheaper than future repairs to existing recreation infrastructure.
“I feel a certain sense of urgency about the multiplex file because of the condition of some of our buildings,” Conroy said. “The government should be asked to commit or not sometime soon.”