It has reached the level of an ongoing joke. When I informed others, even my own coworkers at the paper, that this month's cover would feature the recent progress made towards the creation of the Burnside Expressway, I was met with expressions of, "Yeah, right." In several cases, words were dropped completely in favour of outright laughter or snorts of derision.
There's no dispute the creation of the Expressway and a direct connection between Burnside and the communities of Bedford and Sackville is vital to the Park's future growth. The benefits of a new ingress/egress point for Burnside are well documented and widely known. Faster travel times, fewer traffic bottlenecks, reduced tailpipe emissions, improved access to major highways and the opening of new lands for development are just the major ones that come to mind.
Yet the long, drawn out history of this crucial piece of infrastructure has made even the most optimistic supporter skeptical. Organizations and individuals that in the past have expressed unwavering support for this project now offer a tepid endorsement that seems to hint they'll believe it when they see it.
It's hard to blame anyone for taking such a position. We are now going on 20 years since the project was first proposed and the initial environmental studies were concluded. Since then we have seen a series of provincial governments come and go that have all promised the Expressway was definitely part of their agenda, only to see it continually put off and delayed.
The current government went so far as to make actual timeline commitments in the House as to when the project would get off the ground, only to miss its own deadline last year. That touched off a fiery round of criticism by opposition parties and prompted the Minister of Transportation Bill Estabrooks to defend his department and outline its plan to official begin construction in 2012.
The latest step toward fulfilling this commitment was the completion of a Request to Purchase between the province and Halifax Regional Municipality that frees of up land needed for the project to begin construction. This significant step would seem to herald that all the promises surrounding this project are finally going to come to fruition, but even businesses that stand to directly benefit are taking a wait and see attitude before getting too excited.
I admit to being jaded to a certain degree on this project myself. It feels I have been following this story for most of my career and it still remains just a series of plans until the first shovel actually goes into the ground. However, I truly do believe it's going to happen this time. Maybe this year as promised, or maybe next year since there still remains an awful lot of preliminary work to do before construction can start, but I believe the conditions are finally in place to make this all come together.
What are those conditions? First there's the status of Burnside itself. The Park is developing its final phase and within site of selling off the last of its original land holdings. At that point it will either stop growing, or new lands will have to be acquired in order to continue to let it expand. The Expressway would provide an excellent opportunity to expand the Park along its northern boundary, allowing it success story to continue.
Secondly, serious negotiations with the involved landowners along the path of the Expressway have been underway for some time. This alone is significant because, despite all the past promises to build the highway, negotiations to purchase the needed land were never initiated before now. The fact the negotiations are taking place is a clear indicator that intention to proceed with the project is genuine.
Thirdly, the opening of the lands along the Expressway corridor is in the best interest of the Municipal Group, the single largest private holder of the lands the government is seeking to acquire. Right now those lands are largely in accessible and that was in Municipal's interest as it continued to develop its quarry in the area. The quarry is now significantly older and the value of the surrounding lands is higher, so the interest in opening them up is greater.
Taken together, I believe these factors will see construction on the Expressway finally begin within the next year or so. So go ahead and insert your expressions of incredulity here, but we'll see you gets the last laugh when the excavators start to roll.