Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Near miss motivates mayor to push for intersection solution

  • March 13 2024
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

MULGRAVE — A near miss with an 18-wheeler, a phone call to CN Rail and an unconfirmed commitment from Genesee & Wyoming Rail, is motivating Mulgrave Mayor Ron Chisholm to push for a permanent fix to a longstanding traffic hazard on the outskirts of town.

“It’s complicated,” he laughs, attempting to explain the series of events over the past couple of weeks that’s now leading him to find a solution, once and for all, to the frustrating conundrum of the Auld’s Cove intersection – at Highway 344 and the Trans-Canada Highway.

“I kind of went off the deep end.”

The intersection – the only way in and out of Mulgrave from that end of town – has been a thorn in the side of local government, and a clear and present danger to residents since the Irving Oil Big Stop there changed the configuration of its gas pumps some years ago, he says. “That means that the big tractor-trailers [sometimes] have to cut into oncoming traffic to turn into the Big Stop [for gas].”

On Feb. 28, “I was just sitting there waiting to turn left [into Mulgrave]. And the truck driver, coming from the Antigonish side heading down to the Cape Breton side, came right in my lane. And, he wasn’t slowing down. I said to myself, ‘Here we go, he’s going to kill me.’ He put the brakes on enough to get around me and get in.”

Chisholm says he’s witnessed similar incidents several times over the years. So have successive Mulgrave town councillors and chief administrative officers, who have attempted to find where the buck stops – the provincial government, Irving Oil, the Municipality of the County of Antigonish or CN Rail, which had been widely assumed to own the railbed at that location – long enough to get the intersection improved, upgraded or completely redesigned.

Last year, provincial authorities seemed to shine light at the end of the tunnel when they announced the Auld’s Cove intersection realignment would be part of their 2023-24 highway improvement plan. But, as recently as last month’s 2024-25 provincial budget, the project was still on the list of planned infrastructure priorities.

In Jan. 2023, Chisholm told The Journal: “Spring is what I was last told. I just had a talk with MLA Greg Morrow…the hold-up is with the Cape Breton Rail. They want a new set of lights, and they want a new contactor [device used for making and breaking an electrical circuit], that big box, and it takes six months to get that, which will probably put us into April or May.”

Last week, immediately after his near miss, he decided he’d had enough. If that rail upgrade is the lynchpin to the whole intersection realignment, how was that going? He picked up the phone. “I probably should have gone after the truck driver ... That would have been more like me ... But I was vibrating by the time I pulled into Mulgrave. I found a number for CN Rail and I talked to a lady who put me on to a guy who then said he’d get back to me in a couple of days.”

When he did, Chisholm reports, he stated that, technically, CN had no responsibility for the portion of track in question. Despite a widely circulated news release from the company last fall – announcing that it had purchased a 145-mile stretch of the Cape Breton & Central Nova Scotia Railway from Genesee & Wyoming – the purchase did not include the rail bed at the intersection of the Trans Canada and the 344, the contact said.

“So, that was a surprise,” Chisholm says. “But, the good news was that the guy said he was talking to somebody with the Genesee & Wyoming [which still owns the rail bed at the intersection] and that their plans were to have it – the lights and an automated warning system, which is the arms come down – done in June.”

Is the long, strange case of the dangerous intersection nobody seems to own or take responsibility for finally over? Chisholm may not go that far.

“We’ve exhausted a lot of avenues. We went to the truckers’ association. We went to government. We tried everything. And you know, you get so frustrated. It’s unreal. Now this young gentleman from CN is telling me that anytime I want an update, he’ll gladly look into it for us. He said that, if I hear any more complaints about close calls at that intersection, to call him. I asked him if he was alright with that because he was going to be getting a lot of calls every week.”