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Writer-s-Bloc

Hwy expansion way behind

By Greg Kyllo

The first of three phases of the long-awaited Salmon Arm West highway expansion project has finally gone to tender – three years behind schedule and now projected to cost B.C. taxpayers an additional $40 million, or 34 per cent more than was previously estimated.  

Bid tender documents identify phase one as 1st Avenue SW – 10th Avenue SW four-laning, including a new bridge over the Salmon River, with a construction completion date of November 2022.

We have also learned that the second segment of the project will not get underway until 2023, and astonishingly, the third phase of the project has been removed from the construction schedule. Government has indicated that phase three remains a priority, but the removal from their construction schedule should be of considerable concern to local residents.

When the current government came to power in 2017, they committed to finishing the project, and yet, despite their assurances year after year that it will be completed, we have only just now seen them make progress on phase one of the project. This even after the Minister reassured me last spring that the project would go to tender before the end of last year.

The premier's mandate letter to the Transportation Minister expressly calls for acceleration of expansion of Highway 1, yet we are seeing the exact opposite in project delays. The government said what was convenient yet failed to take action in following through on their promise.

In addition to significant project delays, and now the uncertainty of the entire project being completed, escalating project costs are also of concern. The major contributing factor is the government's plan to proceed under their Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) framework. I have written in this space many times before about the considerable problems with CBAs. They are discriminatory and exclude 85 per cent of B.C. construction workers. They are complicated, favouring large unionized firms at the expense of local contractors and extending the timeframe of projects. And, as is exemplified in the case of the Salmon Arm West highway improvement, CBAs prove to be very costly for British Columbians.

Obviously, this is not the best-case scenario for British Columbians and not the best-case scenario for us in the Shuswap. While I am happy to see this project advance, I am disappointed that we have had to deal with multiple delays and unnecessary price escalations attributable to discriminatory hiring practices. I hope that going forward we will see consistent progress on the Salmon Arm West project so that residents of the Shuswap will soon be able to benefit from its construction.

Greg Kyllo is the BC Liberal MLA for Shuswap; he is the official opposition critic for BC Hydro and was appointed by the Legislature to the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs.

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