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

An inmate at Mission Institution has had his request to reverse a transfer from Mission’s minimum-security prison denied. / Kevin Mills File Photo
Serial rapist’s bid to go back to Mission’s minimum-security prison denied, after alleged fixation on 2 female staff

Clifford Barry Howdle went on violent sexual-assault spree in 1999 while out on day parole

Edwin S Richards Elementary. Google Maps street-view image.
COVID-19 exposure at Edwin S. Richards Elementary in Mission

Parents received letter on Dec. 3, advising of exposure on Nov. 17, 18, 19, 20 and 23

Joe Fast of Abbotsford is on dialysis four days a week and has issued a public plea for a kidney donor. (Submitted photo)
Abbotsford man with 5% kidney function is desperately in need of a live donor

Joe Fast has a rare blood type and hasn’t yet been able to find a transplant match

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
COVID-19 outbreaks continue at 2 Abbotsford care homes

Tabor Home and Menno Home still battling the virus

Information about the number of COVID-19 cases in Abbotsford and other municipalities poses a danger to the public, the Provincial Health Services Authority says. (Photo: Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News)
More city-level COVID-19 data would jeopardize public health, B.C. provincial health agency says

Agency refuses to release weekly COVID-19 case counts, citing privacy and public health concerns

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Chilliwack General Hospital. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress file)
Chilliwack mother upset about son’s alleged suicide attempt after hospital discharge

Rhonda Clough said 34-year-old son suffering with bipolar disorder should have been kept in hospital

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty respirators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

Most Read