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

Ben Maartman, pictured in his ‘farm office’ has been elected as Area H director. (Ben Maartman photo)
Ben Maartman declared Director of CVRD Area H

Maartman will be sworn in on December 8

Beautiful morning with the sun peaking through, as viewed from Thetis Island. (Photo by Kelly Bannister)
November characterized by a record high, no snow and plenty of rain in Chemainus region

Temperature almost hits the 20 degree Celsius mark on Nov. 4

Applications for the OCP Steering Committee can be dropped off at Ladysmith City Hall or emailed to info@ladysmith.ca. (File photo)
Town seeks community members for OCP steering committee

The deadline for applications is January 4, 2021, at 4 p.m.

Three Ladysmith Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store volunteers have tested positive for COVID-19. (Ladysmith Health Care Auxiliary photo)
Three Ladysmith Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store volunteers test positive for COVID-19

Anyone who volunteered at Thrift Store between Nov. 14 - Nov. 28 is asked to monitor for symptoms

Ben Maartman, left, and Murray McNab are running for regional director for Area H North Oyster-Diamond in a Cowichan Valley Regional District byelection later this month. (Photos submitted)
Preliminary Area H byelection results show Maartman up by seven votes, McNab to ask for recount

Results of the by-election to by finalized by noon on Tuesday, December 1

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

Dave Wallace coached the Parksville Royals for 23 years. (PQB News file photo)
B.C. baseball community mourns death of legendary Vancouver Island coach Dave Wallace

‘All who knew Dave and his passion for the game will miss him greatly’

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
B.C.’s largest COVID-19 care-home outbreak records 19 deaths, 147 cases

Tabor Home in Abbotsford has been battling outbreak since Nov. 4

Most Read