Highway fencing not cost-effective

Former deputy minister tells class-action trial price tag more than double of New Brunswick

Published on April 14, 2014

Fencing the Trans-Canada Highway to help reduce moose-vehicle collisons was not cost-effective, said a deputy minister for the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Transportation and Labour.

Robert Smart, a former deputy minister and a witness for the provincial government, testified Monday during the ongoing class-action lawsuit involving moose-vehicle collisions at the Supreme Court of Newfoundland in St. John’s.

He said after consulting with the government of New Brunswick on its project, and comparing the costs that province paid to figures relative to the needs of this province, it was decided highway fencing was not worth the investment, Smart said.

New Brunswick paid $70,000 per kilometre to erect wildlife fencing on one side of a highway. There, the concern is primarily deer — not moose — so, “we would have probably had to have more substantial fencing,” Smart said.

Estimates showed it would cost $150,000 per kilometre to fence both sides of the highway.

The province has 9,000 kilometres of highway, but for “illustrative purposes,” projected the cost for only 500 kilometres, or roughly five per cent of the total surface area at $75 million.

This figure did not include underpasses or overpasses, which could cost between $1 and $3 million each.

Additionally, New Brunswick was struggling to keep wildlife from wandering around the breaks in the fence or through its gates, which people were leaving open.

This was likely to be the case in Newfoundland, Smart said, where provincial roads intersect with public and private exit points.

“We were not convinced that fencing would be effective in our jurisdiction,’’ he said.

Smart said another reason that fencing wasn’t pursued had to do with which department would be responsible for it.

In an email correspondence, former minister of transportation and works John Hickey expressed an interest in launching a pilot fencing project, to which Smart responded, “whether fences would be effective in keeping moose off the highway is something the department of Environment and Conservation should perhaps take the lead on.”

Smart was called to bolster the province’s case that it had not been negligent in its handling of moose collisions from 2003-11. The choice not to fence, he said, was based on cost-benefit analysis.

The province did increase the portion of its budget allocated toward brush cutting from $300,000 in 2005 to $2.3 million in 2006.

Brush cutting is meant to “increase the line of sight for drivers,’’ Smart said. 

In cross examination, the lawyer for the plaintiffs challenged Smart as to whether the department’s investment in brush cutting was in fact to reduce these incidents.

Smart recognized that brush cutting could also help drain highways and clear roads during the winter, but said brush cutting was “driven by the concern of moose-vehicle collisions.”

The province called a second witness, Jamie Chippett, deputy minister of Environment and Conservation, who shed light on the launch of the fencing pilot project following a policy change in 2011.

The case is set to wrap up on Wednesday after a final witness testifies for the province.