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Shattered highway has communities fed up

The Combined Councils of Labrador wants Premier Dwight Ball and Transportation Minister Al Hawkins to travel the Labrador Straits highway to experience it first-hand.
The Combined Councils of Labrador wants Premier Dwight Ball and Transportation Minister Al Hawkins to travel the Labrador Straits highway to experience it first-hand.

LABRADOR STRAITS, NL – Fragmented, battered, and broken – the Trans-Labrador Highway is wreaking havoc on vehicles and communities across the Labrador Straits.

Penny Belben had only been on the Trans-Labrador highway for less than five minutes when two tires popped. At the time of the incident she had hauled away to avoid one pot hole – only to have her tires lost to another.

Penny Belben was off the ferry and driving down the highway for hardly five minutes when she swerved to avoid a pothole. Unfortunately, under the highway’s current conditions, hauling away from one pothole can mean you’re going to hit another, and that’s just what happened.
She popped two tires.
“It’s still on the tow truck so we’re not sure yet if the rims were damaged,” Belben said. “But our vehicle is out of commission for a week or two at least.”
Belben lost a tire the previous summer on the same highway. For many who frequent the road, vehicle damage is becoming a tradition, she said.
Clarus Bridle, owner and operator of Whalers Restaurant in the historic fishing village of Red Bay, says road conditions have had a disastrous impact on the community’s tourism industry.
Complaints from bus tour drivers have been common, but recently a bus tour with 54 people cancelled its trip to Red Bay due to road conditions. Unless the road is fixed immediately, Bridle expects this to become a more common occurrence.
“More than likely this will happen again,” Bridle said. “The past two weeks are the worst I’ve ever seen the highway.”
While minor repairs have been done with cold patches, it is not enough for a road with these conditions.
“Unless they get more crews or something, I don’t think they’re going to gain an inch with that,” said Bridle. “They’ll throw it in one day and then the next day when heavy traffic comes over – it’s all popped out again.”
Bridle says the road needs to be fully paved over, but with the current state of the provincial economy, he doesn’t see that happening soon.
Kali Jones has worked at Lighthouse Gifts in Point Amour for the past three years. She says tourism in her area has suffered because of the shattered highway.
“This year we’re primarily only seeing bus tours come through,” Jones said. “The individual travellers are pretty much nil at this point. There’s probably a lot of them saying, ‘we’re going to beat up our car if we keep going.’”
She spoke with tourists from the Netherlands recently who said the highway conditions were the worst they’ve ever seen.
“They were blown away and addled at the roads,” she said. “They once took a trip through a remote village in South Africa, and those roads were better than this.”
Jones says even if the highway is repaired this summer, the damage may have already been done for next year’s tourism.
“Word of mouth affects tourism in a lot of ways,” she said. “We’ll see repercussions next season because we’re not getting that positive word of mouth about us now.”
L’Anse-au-Clair resident Maurice Smith started a Facebook group to detail the state of the highway and organize petitions and protests around it. He originally hoped to gain at least 100 members, but now has around 1,500 people who are fed up and ready to rally for improved roads.
Smith believes highway conditions have moved to a state of crisis. He says it is no longer a matter of driver comfort; it is a matter of life and death, and the economic well-being of affected communities.
While he lives in Red Bay, Bridle still takes the road often to get supplies. He says, like most, there is heightened fear and anxiety each time he drives on the highway.
“I take that road and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” he said. “You see trucks coming towards you on the wrong side of the road to get away from the pot holes and stuff – it’s in a mess.”
Smith would like to see the road from the Quebec border to Pinware paved this year, and the following year new pavement from Pinware to Pinware River Bridge, and County Cat Pond to Red Bay. He says these areas need urgent attention.
As communities like Red Bay continue to be impacted by horrendous road conditions, Bridle hopes repairing the Labrador Straits highway will become a top priority for the provincial government.
“If you lose a few [tour] buses you can’t get that back, no matter what,” Bridle said. “This is our main highway, and there’s no other main highways I know of in Newfoundland in this state.”

By Kyle Greenham
The Northern Pen

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