LABRADOR STRAITS, N.L. — There is both frustration and relief in the Labrador Straits as much-anticipated work on the Trans-Labrador Highway (510) is finally proceeding.
“We’re all happy that it’s happening,” said L’anse au Loup Mayor Trent O’Brien. “It’s definitely very positive that it’s happening, but a lot of people are frustrated at the pace at which it has been happening and the fact that it’s so far behind schedule.”
Two years ago the government announced two contracts, each for 80 kilometres of the coastal part of the highway between Mary’s Harbour and the Quebec border. The first one of those was not started until 2017 and the other was not completed at all, O’Brien said.
“We’re a year behind in the paving work itself,” he said. “Here in the Straits, say from L’anse au Clair to Red Bay, there was work announced for the 2016 construction season and again didn’t get started until the 2017 construction season and then work announced last fall to start in this area during this construction season, when the contract actually came out, it was only for approximately half the work that was initially pegged to be done.”
Last year, over a two-day period, residents stopped commercial traffic in protest.
O’Brien said the condition of the road financially impacts residents of the Straits in three ways, personal vehicle damage, tourism and cost of goods.
“That’s our only transportation link to get around Labrador and it’s been known to cause serious or severe damage to people’s vehicles over time with the potholes and what have you,” he explained.
On the tourism side, O’Brien, who works in the automotive business, cited examples of a client who was stuck in the area for three days when a pothole took out two sets of leaf springs on his travel trailer and another couple who ended up incurring double car rental fees when they had to rent another car to replace their original rental while they waited for a replacement tire.
“A fair chunk of our economy is based on tourism and tourists tend to talk to one another,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said, even ongoing construction has a positive impact on tourism.
“All the tourists seem to know that roadwork is going ahead and as a result that they know that something is happening they’re willing to take a chance,” O’Brien noted. Once the road paving is completed and a larger percentage of the tourism base is aware of that, I can’t see anything but tourism picking up.”
Finally, people in the area rely on trucking on Hwy 510 for much of their goods.
“I know from talking to some of the truckers that the road is wreaking havoc on their equipment,” O’Brien continued. “If you were on a contract to deliver something for somebody and you knew there was a good chance that you were going to sustain several thousand dollars-worth of damage on your way there, then obviously that’s got to be built into your price to do the transportation.”
The situation, of course, is very similar on the other side of the Straits with heavy tourism. Road work is also proceeding on the Northern Peninsula and is going pretty much as planned according to the Ministry of Transportation and Works website.
St. Lunaire-Griquet Mayor Dale Colbourne doesn’t have enough good to say about the recent and ongoing paving on Hwy 436 between her town and L’anse aux Meadows.
“A few people have said, ohmigod, it makes it look some stupid that they haven’t paved them few kilometres in between, but when you spend $3.2 million to pave 13-and-a-half kilometres, another three-and-half kilometres is a lot of pavement and a lot of money in a province that’s struggling so I can’t say anything negative about it, it’s really helped our town and the local people seem pretty happy with it.”
Scheduled work is also proceeding on Hwy 430 in the towns of St. Anthony, Port au Choix and Anchor Point; and on Hwy 435 south of Cook’s Harbour.
As of press time work scheduled for this summer on Hwys 433 (Englee Hwy) and 434 (Conche Road) was not proceeding according to the government web page. The Ministry of Transportation and Works did not respond to requests for an update.