New rotary design aims to improve access

April 2, 2023

At first glance, the redesign of the Port Hastings rotary can seem rather complicated, but the province’s lead highway designer says motorists shouldn’t have any problem navigating the roundabout.

“I typically refer to it as a squid fighting with an octopus,” explains Keith Boddy, senior highway design engineer with the Nova Scotia Department of Public Works. “That’s what it kind of looks like when you’re designing it.”

But Boddy says signage will be key to making sure that drivers have no more than one or two simple choices to make when traveling through the rotary.

“The challenge when you view things from the air is that they are very complicated, but when you’re on the ground and you’re driving, the idea is for them to be less so, because you’re faced with individual choices,” he notes. “You’re not trying to get in all directions at once.”

“If you’re looking for the 105 as your destination, you will see an overhead sign with an arrow pointing down that says ‘105, be in this lane.’ That lane should guide you to it.”

“Part of what I do is try to keep those decisions as simple as possible,” Boddy adds. “The worst-case scenario is if someone showed up (at the rotary) and had six choices to make in five metres of travel, 100 per cent they’re going to get lost. I would get lost.”

Boddy was in Port Hastings in December to unveil the department’s new design at a public meeting that drew about 100 people to the local fire hall. He said that meeting was the culmination of more than three years of public input.

“What we were there to show was sort of the end product,” he says. “This is where we’ve arrived based on all the feedback we’ve collected over the last three years and beyond. We’re still considering comments we heard back in ‘05 when we first came out with the new highway alignment.”

This revised design aims to improve upon the initial plan for the rotary, which was first unveiled by the previous provincial government in 2021. Boddy says the main focus of this new plan is keeping the rotary operational when the nearby swing bridge at the Canso Canal closes, and backs traffic up into the circle. He says the new realignment will allow easy access to and from the Port Hastings fire hall for volunteer firefighters and will also allow traffic coming from Trunk 4 to proceed to Route 19 without delay.

As part of the new design, additional dedicated lanes and off-ramps will be added, as well as a Trans-Canada Highway overpass that crosses Route 4. Metered traffic lights will also be installed at two key points along Highway 105 westbound and Route 4 westbound to ensure the roundabout remains open to emergency vehicles, especially during busy periods when the swing bridge is closed.

One element of the original plan that remains is the addition of a second westward “storage lane” between the rotary and the swing bridge. Boddy says his department analyzed wait times caused by the swing bridge closures and determined that the average wait is 17 minutes.

“The second lane almost doubles our storage,” he says. “It gives us extra space for vehicles and keeps the rotary operational.”

“It was the firehall that raised the concern with us that they needed the circle to remain operational full-time,” Boddy recalls. “They have to get to the firehall in their vehicles because they’re volunteer firefighters, and they need to get out of there in the fire truck and go in any direction.”

“If it’s jammed up, that limits their ability to get in and out.”

Boddy says because the early days of the COVID pandemic made it impossible to hold public meetings, his department had to get creative in terms of gathering public input on the rotary project, offering a “virtual public engagement” by designing a dedicated website and using Twitter and Facebook.

“We actually did get fairly good uptick on that,” he notes. “We had 30 or 40 comments that came in through various means, which is actually quite good, considering it was sort of user driven. Folks obviously had something to say, and they had it said.”

Once gatherings were allowed, they held a number of stakeholder meetings with local groups, including Inverness County Council, a local church group from Port Hastings and the area firefighters.

Another issue that arose from those meetings was protecting the Clough cemetery located atop a hill adjacent to the project. Boddy says the addition of the second storage lane in that area prompted his department to carefully consider a solution.

“Of course, we’re constrained on one side by the railway and the right of way ownership, and on the other side by the rock face heading up to the cemetery,” he explains. “Ultimately the solution that was selected is an engineered solution, to go in there and stabilize the rock slope.”

“That slope is currently unstabilized – it’s just a rock face hanging on the side of the outcrop. Something could happen to that at some point. We don’t know. It’s not visibly moving or it’s not failing currently. But it could potentially in the future.”

He says by going in there and engineering a rock-bolted solution, that greatly decreases the likelihood of the hill collapsing.

“We’re way over-engineering that rock face,” Boddy adds. “The directive we gave to our geotechnical folks is we don’t want to see a single pebble on that cemetery move. There’s no messing around. We’re not going to go in with half measures.”

Boddy says there are a lot of things to consider with the project, not the least of which is causing as little disruption to the community as possible.

“That’s a key feature of any of my own design work is to limit property takes as much as possible,” he says. “I don’t want to be seen as just going in and tearing down communities because that’s not

A team of rappelers begin work on what will be a retaining wall along the eastward approach to the rotary. A local church group had expressed concern that the rotary redesign would threaten the cemetery that sits at the top of the hill. So provincial engineers devised a plan that will secure the rock face and ensure there is no subsidence. Photo by Dave MacNeil

what we do. Our goal is to actually improve the community and improve access and to make things better. Safety is always the key.”

“There’s a reason why people live there,” Boddy adds. “They like the view; they like the quiet. It’s not up to us to go in there and tear that all apart just to improve safety. So, it’s a true balancing act. The more input we get from the public, the better it is at the end of the day.”

He says provincial Public Works plans to begin work on the rockface below the cemetery during winter months, to take advantage of lower traffic volumes in that area. Work on the actual rotary will resume in 2023, but the timetable is unclear at this point, as a number of utilities in the construction area must first be addressed.

“Nova Scotia Power and the County of Inverness are both actively involved in the project,” Boddy explains. “The County has underground utilities (water and sewer) that need to be addressed. There are a number of power poles that need to be moved. All of that has to happen at the same time, so we have to coordinate, but we have no control over the schedule.”

Lauren MacDonnell, municipal EIT with the County, says with the new design calling for Highway 104 to pass over Trunk 4, that requires the water and sewer lines in that area to be moved.

“With those grade changes, particularly where Trunk 4 dips down to go underneath that overpass, essentially the sewer would become exposed if it wasn’t moved,” she adds.

“Between the province and our own Public Works staff, from a maintenance perspective we would want to keep as much of the municipal water and sewer infrastructure out of all the complex transportation infrastructure for future maintenance purposes,” MacDonnell explains.

She says the water main, carrying water from a supply in Port Hawkesbury to the community of Port Hastings, is a key piece of infrastructure. That main supplies water to the water storage tank, the local church and fire hall, as well as the subdivision on the hill behind those structures.

“You shouldn’t see any type of interruption,” MacDonnell says. “The construction would be either phased in a way that there wouldn’t be any type of interruption, or that you have a temporary servicing or connections so that you can maintain service throughout construction.”

“At most we would hope that there would only be a brief interruption while things were switched from the old to the new infrastructure.”

The realignment of the rotary is scheduled for completion by the end of 2024.

The redesign of the Port Hastings rotary is scheduled for completion by the end of 2024. Photo by Dave MacNeil