The Mystery of the Closed Lane

Two aspects of my summers past are relevant to the story I’m about to share: first, as a kid, I used to devour Nancy Drew mysteries (hence the title of this article) and always had a hankering to solve mysteries.

Second (and more recently), for what seemed like a very long stretch of time, as the NS Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) upgraded the highway between Sydney River and St Peters, sitting in the heat at stop signs, waiting for permission to proceed slowly through the one open lane, became a feature of summers on the Bras d’Or.

I’m not going to say I didn’t complain about it, because I did, but the end result was a vastly improved stretch of highway that citizens can now enjoy (and large trucks do their best to destroy).

So when I was passing through Ben Eoin last Thursday (August 1) and was forced by a flag person to stop in front of the ski hill and golf course, my first thought was, “I remember this.”

But then I noticed that no work was being done on the road, per se — the work was being done on two private properties on the lake side of the highway.

 

Trees were being cleared like they’d just been declared a health hazard and I couldn’t help but notice that with the trees gone, the property owners had an unimpeded view of the punters in the dining room at the newly expanded The Lakes Golf Club and Resort.

More importantly, the punters in the dining room at the newly expanded The Lakes Golf Club and Resort had an unimpeded view of the lake.

I asked the flag guy — a young man in a hard hat — if the work was, in fact, being done on private property and he said yes, a company named “Northern” had been contracted to remove the trees.

How, I wondered, does one go about closing a well-traveled highway to one lane on one of the hottest days of summer at the height of the tourist season?

I decided to do a Nancy Drew and to try to find out.

 

Permits

I began with the TIR website where I discovered that you can get a “Highway Right of Way Permit for “working on the roadside” but this seemed to apply chiefly to driveway installations and the applicable rules state you must “[c]arry out the work without interruption of highway traffic.”

You can also get a permit for an “On-Highway Special Event,” but this applies to road races and bike races and parades and “commercial filming,” none of which describes what was happening in Ben Eoin last week (unless they were filming a tree-clearing scene for an upcoming episode of Brojects.)

Next, I contacted the TIR directly and asked if they could tell me how a private land owner would go about getting permission to close a highway lane (with construction zone signs and flag people) while clearing trees from their property?

A TIR spokesperson replied:

A work within highway right of way permit would be required. I have attached the forms you will need.

(For the record, although my email clearly identified me as the editor of the Cape Breton Spectator and I specified that I had a deadline by which I needed the information, the TIR seemed to think I personally wanted to shut down the highway and clear some trees. I assure you the deception was unintentional.)

Here’s the brochure I was sent — as noted above, Condition 7 says clearly the work is not to interrupt the flow of traffic:

highway.right.of.way.brochure

 

It can take up to 10 days to receive your permit and you must put down a depositĀ  of $300 which is refunded if, after inspection, the TIR determines the work has been done to its satisfaction.

 

Plot thickens

So, naturally, my next question for the TIR was, “Who requested the permit for last week’s work and how long did it take?” (My understanding is that the lane was closed for more than one day.)

TIR spokesperson Marla MacInnis replied by email:

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal was not involved in or aware of tree clearing in Ben Eoin on August 1.

Which means no one applied for a highway right of way permit.

I asked if there were ever situations in which people/companies could close roads without permits and MacInnis replied:

Work that takes place adjacent to our highways requires an approval permit from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. Some utility companies have ongoing permission to conduct work along the highways because of the volume of work that they do. If we become aware of an active lane closure that has not received proper approval, we would investigate the matter.

I do not believe the company clearing the trees in Ben Eoin last week qualifies as a “utility” and I now know it didn’t have a permit to close a lane on a well-traveled highway at the height of the tourist season on a day when the temperature hit 27 degrees Celcius.

And yet, it did.

Okay, the trail went cold here, which makes me a seriously crap Nancy Drew but I’m not giving up just yet and if you have any thoughts (or were held up in traffic yourself) please get in touch.