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LETTER: Politics the biggest roadblock for a Newfoundland to Labrador fixed link

This map shows the location of a proposed tunnel connecting Labrador to the island of Newfoundland, from Point Amour to a site near Flower’s Cove.
This map shows the location of a proposed tunnel connecting Labrador to the island of Newfoundland, from Point Amour to a site near Flower’s Cove. - Contributed

I love fresh strawberries. The problem is, truly fresh fruit and produce of any kind is hard to find in this province for much of the year, and the reason is our transportation links to the rest of Canada. Everything that comes in or out of this province must come by sea or air.

Both methods of transport are problematic due to weather, ice, fog, etc., and experience frequent delays and stoppages sometimes for days at a time. It is a serious and growing problem that’s having an ongoing negative impact on the economy of the province and the day to day lives of everyone living here. Nowhere is that more evident than in the tourism industry, where, in addition to the frequent ferry service delays and stoppages, the Cabot Strait cost barrier is the biggest obstacle to growth in that industry within this province.  

We are the only Canadian province whose largest population centres have no road link to the rest of the country. In June of this year, the federal government approved and released a feasibility study on a fixed link completed by MUN and the engineering firm Hatch MacDonald that confirmed technical feasibility and recommended a further detailed feasibility study; and the need and benefits are abundantly clear. If you are following the Federal Election campaigning at all, one might think the Liberals are ready to start digging … right after the election.

Financing for the link could be done through a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement as was done for the P.E.I. fixed link.

Visionary engineer, the late Tom Kierans put forward a plan a few years back for a fixed link tunnel between the Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador using a single track train tunnel buried in the ocean floor. His proposal would provide capacity for energy and communications links as well as transportation. His vision for a tunnel was valid then and is valid today, albeit, with advances in tunnel boring machine (TBM) technology over the ensuing years, a bored tunnel would likely be a more viable option today.

So, with need, benefit and feasibility having been established, and at least one financing option available; why isn’t the tunnel already in place?

So, with need, benefit and feasibility having been established, and at least one financing option available; why isn’t the tunnel already in place?

The answer, quite simply, is politics.

To get this done in a way that makes the most sense, will require the cooperation of the federal and at least two provincial governments. As Kierans rightly pointed out in his proposal, deriving maximum benefit from this undertaking would require completion of Highway Route 138 along the lower north shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway, to TCH standard, all the way up to the tunnel entrance on the mainland side. Route 430 on the Northern Peninsula would also have to be overbuilt and brought up to TCH standard.

Up until recently, our electoral process has resulted in the non-alignment of political parties between the governments that must co-operate to get this done. The opportunity that resulted from the political alignment that existed between Ottawa, Quebec and N.L. following the last federal election has come and gone and may change again with this election.

Regardless, the opportunity still exists to move forward, and it is in the common interest of the country, the Atlantic region and the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador in particular; to move forward with this very necessary, viable, nation-building infrastructure; sooner rather than later. It would open up and enable economic growth and development in eastern Quebec and southern Labrador, provide improved transportation for people goods and services to and from the eastern Quebec region, and Newfoundland and Labrador; and, improve the economy of the entire Atlantic region.

It’s been done successfully in this country before.

Think about the CPR, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and more recently the Hibernia offshore oil development, and P.E.I. Confederation Bridge.

Were there critics at the time? Did those projects get done? Would anyone today, argue their benefit to the economic development and growth of the country? So yes, it is a matter of getting the politics right.

Where was I?

Oh yes, …. fresh strawberries.

Roland Card,
St. John’s


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