A rock the size of a small car obstructs the Trans-Canada Highway at Three Valley Gap, April 18, 2018. (Revelstoke Review)

B.C. Highway 1 widening to Alberta demanded for decades

Future sections to use union-only construction deal

Two sections of four-laning Highway 1 between Kamloops and the Alberta border are already underway, and residents are anxious to see other parts widened, such as the notorious Three Valley Gap near Revelstoke.

Sections through national parks east and west of Golden are the responsibility of Parks Canada, with the rest jointly funded by the B.C. and federal governments. The North Fork section from Sicamous to Revelstoke is underway, as is the Donald to Forde Station Rd. west of Golden.

Planning work is underway for sections east of Salmon Arm and Chase, and phase four of the Kicking Horse Pass route east of Golden, which has a reputation as some of the most difficult and expensive highway and bridge sections in North America.

B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena announced the start of work on Donald to Forde Station in April, with a price tag of $19.4 million to complete 2.5 km. A third of the money comes from Ottawa. Trevena said B.C. has committed $464 million over three years to “accelerate” upgrades to Highway 1.

A week before the announcement, a car-sized boulder landed on the highway at Three Valley Gap, the latest of many hazards where a pilot project to install protective mesh is underway this summer.

“That netting is not going to stop those boulders coming down,” Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok said at the time. “There need to be some geotechnical studies done there.”

RELATED: Three Valley Gap awaits rockfall solution

RELATED: Salmon Arm struggles with highway traffic

The Trans Canada sections are the first highway projects to be subject to the province’s new union-only major construction deal with the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades. The deal includes pre-set wages and benefits and a goal of 25 per cent apprentices on B.C. public construction projects.

Premier John Horgan says the arrangement is a remedy to “16 years of apprenticeship failure” under the previous B.C. Liberal government, and higher wages and benefits are needed to compete for skilled workers in a “hot” construction labour market.

“When we look at the track record of the B.C. Liberals on capital projects over the past number of years, virtually all of them were wildly over budget, and they were using temporary foreign workers or workers from outside British Columbia,” Horgan said. “So having local hire provisions, having a guarantee that we’re going to train people on site and we’re going to pay fair wages I think is going to help us in the days ahead.”

Horgan wouldn’t be pinned down on the extra costs, but Trevena has said the elaborate construction master agreement is expected to add between four and seven per cent to the cost of replacing the Pattullo Bridge between New Westminster and Surrey.

RELATED: B.C. NDP ‘helping its union friends’

Business and independent construction groups wrote an open letter to Horgan last week urging him to reconsider what they call “restrictive and regressive 1990s-style project labour agreements.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that B.C. government projects over the next three years are expected to cost $25.6 billion, including between $2.4 billion and $4.8 billion as a result of the province’s agreement with 19 selected international unions.

The B.C. Chamber of Commerce, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, Canada West Construction Union, the Christian Labour Association of Canada, Independent Contractors and Businesses Association and other groups called on Horgan to “abandon this ill-conceived procurement model.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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