Currently the only way to get across the Strait of Belle Isle is by a provincial ferry. The idea of building a tunnel has been discussed by governments for decades.
A government study into the feasibility of a permanent link between Newfoundland and Labrador is recommending a subsea rail tunnel, at a cost of $1.65 billion.
Such a tunnel would take 15 years to complete, Premier Dwight Ball told a news conference Wednesday in St. John’s.
A fixed link tunnel between the two parts of the province has the potential to be a “nation-building project,” said Ball, comparing it to the Confederation Bridge that connects Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
“Making a fixed link could truly change the landscape and unify our country,” Ball said.
The findings came from a government pre-feasibility study into a fixed link for travel between the island and mainland parts of the province.
A public-private partnership, similar to Confederation Bridge, is a strong possibility to finance the tunnel, said Ball, who added that a project of nature would require “significant partnerships.”
Ball also said that he’s open to a partnership with Quebec for the tunnel, and will meet with that province’s premier on Thursday to discuss a fixed link and mining-related investment.
The $266,000 study, completed by consulting company Hatch and the Harris Centre at Memorial University, was announced in 2016, who said the idea of a fixed link deserved another look.
Linking Yankee Point and Point Amour
The study recommended using a single-tunnel boring machine to drill from Yankee Point on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland to Point Amour in southern Labrador — a distance of about 16 kilometres.
The tunnel would use a shuttle train to carry nearly 400 vehicles at peak hours, with a single train going back and forth between the two linkage points.
Such a tunnel would not only replace the Strait of Belle Isle ferry service that currently runs between northern Newfoundland and southern Labrador, but also 60 per cent of the traffic from the Cabot Strait ferry service between southwestern Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the study found.
Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, a strong proponent of a fixed link, said the provincial government is showing “tremendous vision and insight” with this study.
The pre-feasibility study marks “a very significant step” in terms of how we move forward with “connectivity to each other,” said Jones, who added that the federal government is paying attention to the direction Newfoundland and Labrador takes on this issue.
Latest study in decades of discussion about fixed link.
The idea of a transportation link between Newfoundland and Labrador has been examined by several provincial governments. A hole on the Labrador side of the Strait of Belle Isle was dug in the 1970s, and in 2005 the Danny Williams government said a link would cost close to $2 billion and chose not to pursue the idea further.
The costs and recommendations from this most recent study were similar to those from a study done in 2004, but experts said they now know much more about drilling and the challenging geology below the Strait of Belle Isle.
The 2004 study estimated a cost for a fixed link at $1.44 billion, with a completion time of 12 years.