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What could a fixed-link highway to Fogo Island look like?

Miles Russell of St. John’s has worked out a route that a causeway could take to link the island of Newfoundland to Fogo Island.
Miles Russell of St. John’s has worked out a route that a causeway could take to link the island of Newfoundland to Fogo Island. - Contributed

Miles Russell has a very specific pastime — the St. John’s-based civil engineering technologist likes to redesign highways in his spare time.

That means when the mood strikes him, he’ll grab some data sets and look at the cheapest way to connect the mainland to Bell Island or redesign parts of the Outer Ring Road in the capital city.

On occasion, Russell will share what he’s mocked up on social media. On Aug. 29, he shared a proposed fixed-link highway between Fogo Island and Frederickton via a fixed-link, rock blasted causeway.

“The reason I did the Fogo Island (redesign) was because of the ferry strike,” he said.

Late last month, the province’s ferry captains went on strike over their wages, a dispute that wasn't settled until this week. This caused disruptions to ferry routes across the province, including Fogo Island.

Under Russell’s design, the causeway would replace the ferry service that has traditionally left Farewell before heading to Change Islands and then Fogo Island.

It would be 25 kilometres in length, nine of those being over open water.

To construct his proposal, Russell entered marine navigation data and topographical data into a design program.

“I hauled my design around a few different paths and basically calculated a rough cross-section that would allow a sensible shallow-water causeway to be built,” he said.

What Russell settled on was a highway that leaves Frederickton, crosses to Tickle Island and Gander Island, snakes across open water to Graveyard Island and connects to Fogo Island.

It would be bookended by small-vessel bridges, contain storm-surge warnings and be 13 feet above high tide. In areas, Russell planned for an average ocean depth of 31 feet and a maximum depth of 59 feet.

“Although it’s quite lengthy, you’re talking about eight or nine kilometres over open ocean. … It’s not that insurmountable,” said Russell.

In his estimates, Russell figures such construction could be done at a cost of $250 million. To help pay for it, there would need to be a toll, he says.

If much of the construction and materials were local, he figures that number could drop.

Still, Russell believes it would be worth the expenditure.

“Fogo Island has a soft spot in Newfoundland’s heart, it’s a big part of tourism, it’s a beautiful place to be. I would figure if there was going to be a fixed link to remove some of the ferry costs, that would be a no-brainer for me,” he said.

The idea of a fixed-link highway between Fogo Island and the rest of the island isn’t a new one.

For years and in light of numerous ferry delays, there have been calls by residents through newspaper letters for the provincial government to look at the possibility of undertaking such a project.

“The issue of a causeway has been in the minds of some people here and of course some of us believe that a causeway would be the ultimate solution to the ferry problems here,” Joe Batt’s Arm resident Joseph Emberly wrote in a 2017 letter to the Lewisporte Pilot.

When contacted by SaltWire Network, Fogo Island Mayor Wayne Collins said it is an item that has come up before.

Several years ago, there were some discussions about connecting Fogo to nearby Change Islands and then having the ferry run from there, but they were never serious.

“It’s been talked about before even as far as 30 years ago,” Collins said of a fixed-link highway.

An email from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said it is currently not considering a fixed link between Farewell and Fogo Island.

As the ferry captain strike stretched into its 4th week and residents continued to deal with delays, the idea of a fixed link highway was something that people have brought up on social media as a possible future solution to their problems.

“I think that the vast majority of residents would entertain that as a positive move, providing the numbers were within grasp there compared to what it is costing now on an annual basis,” said Collins.

The mayor indicated that the idea of a fixed-link highway should be looked at.

He recognized an in-depth cost analysis into any project would need to be completed before anything happens, if it even gets to that point.

“It is certainly worth exploring if the numbers were there to substantiate that possibility,” said Collins.

Nicholas Mercer is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering central Newfoundland for SaltWire Network

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