The Trans Canada Highway at Salmon Arm is subject to the latest of a long series of widening projects extending to the Alberta border. (B.C. transportation ministry)

B.C. highway widening job reduced, costs still up $61 million

Union-only project scales back work to widen Trans-Canada

The B.C. NDP government’s union-restricted road construction program is sparking new questions about a steep increase in costs, even as a section of Trans-Canada Highway widening work has been significantly scaled back.

Widening the Trans Canada Highway east of Kamloops is one of three major projects the NDP government designated for what it describes as “community benefits agreements.” They restrict the workforce to 19 mostly U.S.-based construction trade unions under a 336-page agreement with a new Crown corporation created to administer it. The others are replacement of the Pattullo Bridge at Surrey, and the Broadway subway extension in Vancouver.

The latest contract to be let under the agreement is for a section of Highway 1 at Salmon Arm, announced in June at a budget of $185 million, including $31 million from Ottawa. The announcement by Transportation Minister Claire Trevena explained the reduced size, three-year delay and $61 million increase in costs was because the 2016 project was completed without sufficient engineering and local engagement work.

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone, the former B.C. Liberal transportation minister, said the work was done by 2017, including consulting the Neskonlith Band. Questioned on the project by Stone and Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo, Trevena said there is still no agreement with Neskonlith to proceed with a large portion of the widening.

Stone said the 9.9 km project has been reduced to 4.9 km, “with a two-lane section stuck in the middle between Hoffman’s Bluff and Chase West,” and elimination of an underpass.

“These massive cost overruns and project scope reductions are the direct result of the NDP delaying these projects for upwards of three years, on top of additional costs in the millions of dollars resulting from the NDP’s imposition of community benefit agreements requiring projects to utilize labour of one of 19 NDP approved unions,” Stone told Black Press July 6.

Trevena said agreement with Neskonlith is needed for the federal share of the money to be provided, and other costs were affected by a “hot market” for construction, up until the COVID-19 pandemic had broad effects on the economy.

“I think what we have now is the realistic budget,” Trevena said.

A tight construction labour market and high prices for steel and asphalt were also cited in the 35-per cent jump in cost for the first contract awarded under the union agreement, east of Revelstoke.

Trevena noted the first Salmon Arm contract went to a Kamloops-based company, and said the new union structure ensures more local, female and Indigenous people being hired as apprentices. That claim has been a source of bitter dispute with newer unions and non-union construction companies, who say they employ 85 per cent of people currently working in construction trades.

Premier John Horgan and the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades say it’s the completion of apprenticeships that is most important, and traditional building trades have an edge there.

RELATED: Contractors picked for Pattullo Bridge replacement

RELATED: Cost jumps 35% for Revelstoke widening section

The new Crown corporation, B.C. Infrastructure Benefits, controls payroll, union dues and benefits for designated public projects. It diverts an additional 25 cents per hour worked to a new union organization called the Allied Infrastructure and Related Construction Council of B.C., and another seven cents per hour to building trades union funds for health and safety.

Non-union or independent union-affiliated companies can still bid on projects, but their employees are required to join one of the designated international unions within 30 days of starting work.

When the $1.38 billion contract to build a new Pattullo Bridge was awarded in January, Trevena acknowledged that the union-only deal would add about seven per cent to the cost. The 83-year-old four-lane bridge is being replaced with another four-lane bridge with added pedestrian and bicycle lanes, and a new off-ramp to Highway 17, the South Fraser Perimeter Road.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vancouver Island films sought for One Minute Mobile Movie Challenge

All entries to be screened online in virtual film festival

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Have a heart when it comes to homelessness

When we de-humanize people, it’s easier to be cruel to them, says letter writer

Major injuries averted after three-vehicle crash in Nanoose Bay

Poor road conditions believed a factor in early-morning mishap

Wildfire southwest of Nanaimo now largely under control

Crews have been on the scene since Friday

Island Health warning of spike in overdoses in Nanaimo area

Substance users advised to visit overdose prevention site on Wesley Street in Nanaimo

B.C. would not send students back to school if there was ‘overwhelming risk’: Horgan

Plan has left many parents across the province worried about their children’s safety

Beefs & Bouquets, Aug. 5

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail editor@nanaimobulletin.com

Face masks will be mandatory for customers at all Walmart locations

Requirement goes into effect on Wednesday, Aug. 12 across Canada

Reuse Rendezvous invites Nanaimo residents to get rid of items that others might want

Annual city-wide swap meet happens Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 8-9

Masks to be mandatory on BC Transit, TransLink starting Aug. 24

Both BC Transit and TransLink made the announcement in separate press releases on Thursday

Penticton homes evacuated due to wildfire northwest of city

Emergency vehicles are at the scene near Sage Mesa, evacuation centre set up in Penticton

British Columbians worried as end of COVID-19 rental supplement looms

Single mom struggles as supplement was her saving grace

B.C. fish harvesters receive long-awaited details on pandemic benefits

Applications to the $470-million federal assistance programs will open Aug. 24

Most Read