There’s no doubt about it: western Labrador is far-and-away winning the regional semi-finals. Their paving teams look like they’ll reach the finish line at Churchill Falls as much as a year ahead of their rivals out of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Although both teams got off to a slow start this construction season (quite the normal occurrence, as it happens), Lab West was able to shake off its winter lethargy first, adding to last year’s gains with a considerable amount of new pavement weeks before the crews from Central even started heating up their asphalt plant.
The Lab West team is already well past the halfway mark (one of the provincial government’s strategically situated highway maintenance depots) and their prep crews are now stamping down the foundation layers almost within spitting distance of their final destination — leaving only a few of the last kilometers of dirt road before Churchill Falls still in their primordial state, rocky and pitted.
The Central Labrador team, which should have resumed heading west some weeks ago, has made no real progress since last year’s milestone task of paving Pope’s Hill — a monumental achievement, for sure, but one which nevertheless still left the team with almost two-thirds of the course to run. Signs in mid-July that the eastern crews were gearing up for a timely start proved false and so far this season they’ve only managed to lay down a short strip of test tarmac in the neighbourhood of the plant — giving the team the appearance that it seems confused about which direction it should be going in.
Such delays and confusion have been part of the eastern efforts since the very first day of the race. The starting-gun ceremony (the symbolic casting of the first shovelful of asphalt by the local MHA) was delayed and almost ruined by a malfunction that resulted in a truck prematurely dumping a hot, steaming mountain of black tarmac inconveniently in view of invited reporters.
It all had to be hurriedly shoveled out of the way before the MHA was permitted to smile for the television cameras while putting some of it back.
If the Labrador West team keeps up its current pace, it should move on to the regional finals after it beats the Central team sometime next year.
That will give western crews plenty of time to prepare for the southern competitions, especially as race officials are only now scheduling the preliminary heats for the main events of paving from Red
Bay to Cartwright and from the Cartwright Junction to Blackrock. Officials announced dates that approach the end of the decade, but if their accuracy is judged on the faulty predictions made for Route 500, then the regional finals probably won’t be run until far into the 2020s.
However, Lab West’s chances in the interprovincials — should the team advance that far — have recently become threatened by a late-
entering Quebec team that came out of nowhere this spring to sprint down Route 389 from Gagnon to Relais Gabriel in less than two months, looking like it might reach the Manic-Cinq finish line before winter returns.
If the Quebec team finishes this lap in that record time, it’ll still have the Fire-Lake-to-Fermont leg left to run, but race observers expect it to continue performing at this accelerated rate.
However, some observers have been speculating that the Quebec crews are perhaps a bit too accelerated, that they’re perhaps unfairly benefiting from a performance enhancing motivation unavailable to the Labrador teams: specifically, the Quebec team is receiving larger injections of government money than what is given to the Labrador crews — a situation that exists because the Quebec roads are being improved to inflate the profit margins of large corporations, rather than to ease the transportation difficulties of ordinary citizens who happen to live in Labrador.
Observers point out that the imbalance explains why the Labrador projects are chronically months and even years behind schedule, no matter how often organizers alter the published schedules to hide the fact.
Race officials concede that governments clearly favour corporations over citizens, but they add that it has been the case for many decades and they can’t be expected to do anything about it.
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.