When you live in the second largest country in the world, highways are important. They connect our cities and provide an avenue of transportation for goods across our vast nation. Our longest highway (and 4th longest in the world) is the Trans-Canada Highway. The massive road connects 10 provinces and spans over 8000 km. It was opened in 1962 and although completed in 1971, there have always been ongoing additions and changes. Because of the nature of higher speed limits on highways, safety is, naturally, the root of any changes made to a highway.
In Nova Scotia, highway safety has always been a provincial focus. Highway 103, or Fisherman’s Memorial Highway, was once rated the 2nd most dangerous highway in Canada by the Canadian Automobile Association, with 29 deaths occurring between 2006 and 2009. Since then, the government has taken action to improve the safety of the highway through the implementation of rumble strips and twinned highways.
Twining a highway makes a two-lane highway much safer. The process involves constructing an identical road parallel to the highway in question. Once finished, the twinned road is used to separate traffic directions and double the traffic capacity.
The construction of a twined highway is a long endeavour, typically 5 to 10 years. One of the first steps in getting project approval is performing an environmental assessment - a task that we specialize in!
Environmental assessments (EA) come in different shapes and sizes, but all of them study the impact of a project on the environment, and conversely, the environment’s impact on the project.
EAs of highway twining determine the best route for the new road, the effects of the road on the environment, and further define any action that must be taken to protect the surrounding environment. There are a number of factors that need to be considered when performing an EA, but the two fundamental items we look at deal with water courses and wetlands. Here’s a little more on each:
Water courses are the channels of flowing water that include rivers, streams, canals and their shores and beaches. Building bridges over water courses can be necessary, depending on the terrain layout, but must be handled with great care. Road construction can cause acid rock drainage into these bodies of water which can increase their acidity levels, causing harm to the local fish. Controlling polluted runoff, resulting from construction, must always be a priority. EAs enforce this awareness, and ensure that work being done around water courses are backed by preventative measures like drainage ditches or site-specific erosion plans.
Wetlands refer to unique ecosystems that are saturated with water either permanently or seasonally. They are home to a variety of animals and trees, and their preservation is of the utmost importance. Standing water is common in wetlands, making water pollution an even greater threat to the fragile environment. Avoiding wetlands when at all possible is always preferred, and EAs work to make that preference a reality.
After a thorough EA (which can take 12-24 months) there are still many steps involved in the completion of a twinned highway. Environmental protection plans, acquiring of permits, engineering design are all big ticket items that require considerable attention long before the construction of the actual road begins.
At the end of the day twinning a highway is an incredibly complex process, and rightfully so. Constructing a landscape wherein drivers are inherently safer is as important as preserving the integrity of the wildlife that those roads could have disrupted. It’s a process we’re proud to be involved in, and our talented team has long been committed to providing the intricate solutions that these projects demand.
Information on current Nova Scotia highway construction projects can be viewed here.