B.C. premier Christy Clark today promised an additional $509 million over 10 years to continue four-lane improvements to the Trans-Canada highway between Kamloops and the Alberta border.
The announcement came during her address to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention in Victoria on Sept. 28.
The existing three-year service plan for the highway sits at $141 million, bringing the total to $650 million over the next decade.
“By planning to replace the George Massey Tunnel and maintaining our commitment to complete four-laning of the Trans-Canada, we are supporting the communities that depend on them and growing our economy,” Clark said in a statement.
Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Mary Polak outlined the government’s plan: “Our goal is to see the entire Trans-Canada Highway four-laned from Kamloops to Alberta. We’ll be working with our federal government to seek matching funds to improve this corridor, which connects our Pacific Gateway with the rest of Canada.”
The Times Review contacted Revelstoke mayor David Raven for comment. Raven was driving home from UBCM at the time and was awaiting details.
“We wholeheartedly support the government’s efforts to continue these much-needed improvements to the Trans-Canada Highway and we look forward to working with the province as projects are prioritized and as work moves forward to improve safety for local families and all highway users,” Raven said in a statement.
The commitment from the premier does not say that the route will be completely four-laned, rather that it’s the goal.
For perspective, since 2001 about $700 million in federal and provincial funds have gone towards the same section of the highway. That’s added about 45 kilometres in new four-lane sections, in addition to new bridges.
However, a key factor in funding major highway capital projects is getting both the federal and provincial governments to chip in, and especially getting one of the two to make the first move. Minister Polak said she’d work with the federal government for matching funds, indicating there is no federal commitment yet.
Federal Heritage Minister James Moore was at the UBCM convention. He spoke of federal contributions to infrastructure projects in B.C.
Polak said completing the remaining 240 kilometres that is not four-lane would depend on federal matching funds.
The B.C. NDP were quick to criticize infrastructure announcements made by premier Clark at UBCM, calling them “an unfunded wish list.”
“Just a few weeks ago, the finance minister said natural gas revenues were declining and they would have to defer nearly a billion dollars in infrastructure spending to control or defer debt-servicing costs,” said NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston.
“Today the premier said she has $200 million to spend on infrastructure projects that she will roll out, campaign-style, over the course of the next weeks and months. That discrepancy is a pretty good indication that these so-called announcements are simply not to be believed.”
Ralston said the $509 million funding announcement for Trans-Canada twinning was “outside the scope” of the capital projects plan. “So while the improvement is undoubtedly necessary, this isn’t so much a plan as it is a vague intention to come up with a plan.”
Revelstoke stakeholders have long lobbied for improvements to the highway, citing several reasons.
There are multiple fatalities and serious injuries on the route each year.
Winter conditions make the route dangerous, leading to head-on collisions on undivided sections of the mountain highway. Just this week, a truck driver was pinned inside his vehicle after it rolled over on a dangerous turn. Another semi rolled over later in the week, snarling traffic for hours.
The route experiences periodic closures in winter due to avalanche control. Tourism stakeholders have complained the state of the highway is costly to their businesses.
Long-haul truck traffic through the area increases each year, making the mountain passes a key pinch point, especially in winter. The B.C. transportation ministry estimates over 500,000 trucks move about $2 billion worth of goods on the Trans-Canada through B.C.
Ongoing upgrades to the highway in the region include the work at Hoffman’s Bluff, Monte Creek to Pritchard and the Clanwilliam and Donald bridge replacements, which are nearing completion.
Future projects that have been announced but have yet to start include replacement of the Malakwa and North Fork Bridges, four-laning near them as well as ongoing four-laning work east of Donald near Golden.