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)

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

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Union Bay electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Black Creek residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

The Northeast Woods in Comox is a popular area for hikers and mountain bike riders. It's also a protected park and conservation area. Photo by Scott Stanfield
Comox Valley RCMP seeking witnesses to ‘indecent act’ in Northeast Woods

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after a man was seen… Continue reading

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells is pictured in December 2018 presenting Marla Ayre, and her children Hunter and Marissa, with keys to their new home at the Habitat For Humanity Vancouver Island North’s Lake Trail Road project. File photo
Courtenay council gives green light to next Habitat build

Courtenay council adopted a bylaw to allow Habitat for Humanity to construct… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Nanaimo RCMP are seeking the public’s help after a man allegedly assaulted a clerk at James General Store on Victoria Road on Jan. 18. (Submitted photo)
Suspect screams at customer then assaults store clerk in Nanaimo

RCMP asking for information about Jan. 18 incident at James General Store

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two Nanaimo care-home residents have died during COVID-19 outbreak

Death reported Monday was the second related to Chartwell Malaspina outbreak, says Island Health

Members of the BC RCMP Explosive Disposal Unit (EDU) is on route to Drummond Park opposite of Fulford Habour on Saltspring Island after the discovery of a suspicious cylindrical-shaped device. (Google/Screencap)
Bomb disposal unit en route to Salt Spring Island after suspicious device found in park

Police say a resident discovered the device Wednesday morning in Drummond Park opposite BC Ferries terminal

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New Duncan street signs will be in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional names in First Nations language

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

Most Read