Premier touts link connecting Newfoundland and Labrador as 'nation-building' - InfoNews

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Premier touts link connecting Newfoundland and Labrador as 'nation-building'

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. The Newfoundland and Labrador government is expected to give an update today on a proposed fixed link between Labrador and the northern peninsula. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
April 11, 2018 - 12:31 PM

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Premier Dwight Ball says a link connecting Labrador to the island of Newfoundland would be a "nation-building" project with benefits for all Canadians.

The premier released a new study Wednesday that found a single underground rail link across the Strait of Belle Isle would cost about $1.7 billion and take 15 years to complete.

Ball compared the potential link to P.E.I.'s Confederation Bridge, which was built in the late 1990s.

"The concept of a fixed link is a nation-building prospect that could potentially have social and economic benefits for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and all Canadians," he said.

The Strait of Belle Isle is about 18 kilometres at its most narrow point.

The proposed link would offer increased mobility to Labrador's 27,000 residents and potentially bring more tourism dollars to communities around Yankee Point in Newfoundland, as well as saving travel time for truck drivers crossing from Quebec.

Ball said his government is eager to begin work on a more detailed report that will explore the potential impacts on the tourism sector and food security in the province.

Ball said the province will now look at finding other funding partners for a full feasibility study, and said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was interested in their meeting Tuesday in Ottawa.

Ball is also meeting with Quebec premier Philippe Couillard tomorrow to discuss the possibility of co-funding the project.

But Ball stressed further investment in the project will not continue without private sector partnerships.

"This is not a project that will be exclusively borne by the taxpayers of our province," Ball told a news conference. "It needs to be a strong partnership."

The design would a single rail line with train cars carrying 197 vehicles in one direction at a time, with a crossing time estimated between 30 and 80 minutes.

The idea of a fixed link has for decades inspired dreams of free-flowing trade, hundreds of jobs and thousands of tourists.

Proponents say a fixed link — like the Chunnel between the U.K. and France, or the North Cape Tunnel in Norway — would unleash economic opportunity.

Labrador Liberal MP Yvonne Jones applauded the province for studying a potential link.

"The fixed link is in the national interest and has the potential to bring growth for Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Canada," Jones said in a statement.

But the idea also has critics in the cash-strapped province.

In last month's budget, the government revealed a deficit this year of $800 million, in the midst of fiscal crisis after the collapse of oil prices and cost overruns on the Muskrat Falls hydro megaproject.

The fixed-link study, funded by the province and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, was completed by Memorial University's Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development.

Alvin Simms of the Harris centre told reporters that a more detailed study would survey residents and potential users to gauge interest and more accurate traffic numbers.

That study will build on earlier research done in 2004 by looking in more detail at geographic conditions and developments in technology.

Engineer Gabriele Mellies, who worked on the research, told reporters Wednesday the project would be difficult given the different rock types in the area, but said the project would be possible with current excavation methods.

Ball reiterated Wednesday that his government will move forward with caution.

"As a government, I have committed to the people of this province that we will do things smarter, we will spend their money wisely. But we will also evaluate options to ensure that all decisions will be made with the best interests of every single Newfoundlander and Labradorian," he said.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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