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March 12, 1999 Halifax Herald

Maritimers, express yourselves with a continental expressway

Last February, to celebrate Valentine's Day and our wedding anniversary, Pat and I went on an overnight dining and shopping trip to Bangor Maine. We left Halifax Saturday morning at 6:30 and arrived in Bangor at 2:00 PM. Our driving time, after deducting one hour and twenty five minutes for lunch and two coffee breaks, was six hours and fifteen minutes.

This feat was made possible by the fact that connecting highways, except for three bottlenecks of two-lane roadway in New Brunswick and Maine, are four-lane divided expressways. Thankfully, only about 150 miles of two-lane roadway still impede fast transit to Maine's interstate 95 - about 20 miles between Moncton and Saint John and about 130 miles between Saint John and Bangor. The elimination of the last bottlenecks between Halifax and Saint John should occur in 1999 or 2000. I don't know what plans are in place for completing the connection between Saint John and the border and for construction of the connection between the border and Bangor. Letís hope such are being prepared to be implemented.

When the day arrives where all the bottlenecks are eliminated, especially the ones caused by traveling through St. Stephen and Calais and over the 90-mile stretch of route 9 to Bangor, travel time from Halifax to Bangor will be reduced to approximately 5 Ĺ hours. Most importantly, Atlantic Canadians and Eastern Mailers will then have what most North Americans take for granted, access to relatively safe Continental expressway travel.

However, even with the missing expressway links, itís amazing how much the travel time between Halifax and Bangor has been reduced. Forty five years ago, the same trip took from 16 to 24 hours of hard driving. For most travelers, it was a two-day ordeal. The roads then were little better than trails. The thrill of meeting and passing big trucks, etc. gave one moments to remember for a lifetime. And getting caught behind slow pokes crawling along at 20 mph wasn't unusual. I well remember occasions when it took three to four hours to travel a hundred miles.

If one wants to see how bad the old roads were, there are still places along the way where traces are visible. When I see these, I can't help but wonder how we met and passed cars and trucks on them without colliding! Some of those roads, especially route 9, were so bad that they inspired songs. I don't recall if "Tombstone Every Mile" was the title of the song that was written about the dangers of route 9 or just a part of it, but it made a fitting statement.

But sitting aside the frustration caused by traveling them, one has to be honest and relate that the curves and narrowness of those trails made for some beautiful scenery. I remember with pleasure driving, during warmer months, over stretches of roadway which were cast in deep shadows by the canopies of the leafy limbs which spanned them. The cathedral-like quietude provided appreciated peaceful interludes.

Now, for the main purpose of this column. In my opinion, the decrepit conditions of the old highways between Halifax and Bangor were major impediments to economic development throughout the entire Eastern region. Although driving conditions have improved dramatically, only an expressway will end the problem forever.

With this in mind, on our way home, I envisioned the economic development possibilities that will materialize for the Atlantic provinces and for eastern Maine when an expressway is completed. Imagine expressway travel from Miami Florida to Halifax - it will be the longest and most interesting costal expressway connection between two Atlantic points in the World.

If extensively advertised as such, it would bring people from all over the continent to the Northeast. Previously-hard-to-reach historic sites such as Campobello Island, (President Roosevelt's summer home off of the coast of Maine), St. Croix, Maine (one of the first European settlements in North America), the Reversing Falls at Saint John, New Brunswick, the Confederation Bridge over the Northumberland Strait to Prince Edward Island, Fortress Louisbourg and the Halifax Citadel would be within easy road travel for millions. The possibilities for tourism and other forms of economic development are limitless!

To get the ball rolling, the premiers of the four Atlantic Provinces and the governor of Maine should sit down soon and plan how to complete the expressway connection. Construction costs should not be an impediment, because the expense pales when compared to what the region stands to gain from expanded tourism and other economic development possibilities.

Because the apparent main beneficiaries will be Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the premiers of PEI and Newfoundland might be tempted to ask: why involve us? The answer is very simple: tourists like to have fast and safe travel to a region. After arrival, the prospect of traveling short distances over secondary roads to access such things as historic sites, the ferry to Newfoundland, or the beaches of Prince Edward Island, become pleasantly feasible. In the age of mobility, reasonably safe speedy transportation between major points is the key to success.

If our leaders use vision and complete the expressway forthwith, they will plant the seeds for a major economic upswing across the entire eastern region!

Daniel N. Paul

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