The Société de développement de la Baie-James (SDBJ), the government entity responsible for the maintenance of the 620-km long route, revealed in its annual report that the annual road maintenance budget will be cut by 40% next year.
The maintenance includes basic upkeep as well as the purchase and dispersal of salt and abrasives during the winter. It was long financed entirely by Hydro-Québec. In 2015, the hydroelectric giant will reduce its annual contribution from $4.8 million to $2.7 million.
If additional funding is not obtained, the cut could force Crees and Jamesiens onto dangerous, unmaintained and isolated stretches of highway throughout the winter months. The SDBJ had hoped for a minimal budget of $8.2 million for the highway in 2015, but will receive only one third of that amount.
“This is absolutely unacceptable on behalf of Hydro-Québec. In the Eeyou Istchee James Bay region, the James Bay Highway is an essential strategic highway,” said Manon Cyr, chairperson of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government. “The industries as well as the Cree and Jamesien residents of the territory need to travel on a secure road. Hydro-Québec should maintain its commitment by ensuring a decent maintenance of the highway.”
Built in the 1970s as part of Hydro-Québec’s development throughout James Bay, the highway stretches from Matagami to Radisson, with access roads to several Cree communities meeting it along the way. Used by roughly 55,000 people annually, the highway does not fall under the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport, and has long relied on the crown corporation for its maintenance budget.
But according to Hydro-Québec, they’ve done enough of the highway’s financing and it’s time for others to contribute.
“Over the years, Hydro-Québec has suggested to the SDBJ that they solicit contributions from other users so that costs could be shared fairly depending on use of the road,” said Hydro-Québec Media Relations Officer Patrice Lavoie, adding that discussions between Hydro-Québec and the SDBJ were “ongoing.”
In the meantime, the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government is seeking additional funding for the highway from the provincial government. The Cree-Jamesien alliance has requested that the provincial government’s Plan Nord devote an annual maintenance budget of $8.2 million for the highway.
Although it’s unclear what the newly elected Liberal government plans for long-term care of the James Bay Highway, the Regional Government is hoping for the same commitment promised by the Parti Québécois before they were ousted in April – $100 million in road repairs to be funded at 85% from the Fonds du développement nordique and 15% by Hydro-Québec.