The government department responsible for forest roads is replacing two bridges that were a barrier to reopening the mid-island highway route from Burgeo to Badger in central Newfoundland.
The scheduled replacement of the two bridges — at Portage Lake and Otter Pond Brook, located on the Lloyds River Resource Road near the Burgeo Highway — are part of forest access roadwork, according to a news release from the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agrifoods.
The work started on Monday and is expected to be completed on Friday, with long delays during that construction period.
Peter Fenwick, chairman of the Southwest Coast Joint Council, said while there are several washouts still to be repaired, this removes the greatest obstacle to the public being able to use this shortcut across the island.
Fenwick said this work also helps give the province a second route across the island when damage closes the Trans-Canada Highway, as recently happened in Terra Nova National Park.
Burgeo Mayor Barbara Barter said she has had meetings with the department and is pleased this work is being done.
Barter said the work could be being done for fire and emergency services, and hopes it will be an important link in the event of some type of emergency on the Trans-Canada Highway.
“Newfoundland is one of very few provinces left that don’t have emergency routes, but has a lot of woods roads and trailways that could be used for such a purpose,” Barter said.
She said she isn’t against the idea of a twinned highway, but the money is not available for that to happen, so a basic escape route connecting one part of the island to another in case of emergencies is an affordable scenario.
“Because of climate change, forest fires and other factors like serious accidents that could shut down the Trans-Canada Highway for an extended period, we need an emergency plan,” Barter said.
She said the Southwest Coast Joint Council is not looking for another paved highway across the mid-island, but for that road to be upgraded enough to make it passable and even attractive to tourists who might want to get “off the beaten path.”
Fenwick said when the route becomes passable again the joint council will look at signage and maps that can be produced to allow travellers to use the road.