MLA irked by budget hike for Highway 1 expansion in Shuswap

Former Transportation Minister Todd Stone critical of $61.1 million increase

  • May. 11, 2020 10:00 a.m.

By Michael Potestio/Kamloops This Week

The former minister of transportation isn’t pleased with a number of shortcomings in upcoming roadwork expanding Highway 1 through the Shuswap area, east of Kamloops.

The provincial NDP government has issued a tender for phase one of the expansion project — a 3.3-kilometre stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway from Chase Creek Road to Chase West.

Work is scheduled to begin later this summer and will involve four-laning the highway, installing protected T-intersections at Chase Creek Road and Shuswap Avenue, adding a pedestrian crossing and multi-use pathway to link the Neskonlith Indian Band and the Village of Chase and building a cattle underpass and new frontage road.

The project, however, comes with a $61.1 million budget increase — to $260.3 million.

Kamloops-South Thompson Liberal MLA Todd Stone, who oversaw project planning as transportation minister before the NDP gained power in 2017, said the current government is providing less for more money.

Stone noted the project contains fewer kilometres of road expansion, a more restrictive type of interchange, is behind schedule and lacks a timeline for the proposed third phase.

Phase one was supposed to include full-access interchanges rather than protected T-intersections, which Stone said provide limited access.

“If you’re heading from Kamloops to Chase, a protected T (intersection) access enables you to go into the Village of Chase, but you can’t come out of the Village of Chase at that same location,” he said, noting an interchange allows for an overpass.

Stone estimated the government is saving about $25 million per interchange by making the change.

He also noted this phase was ready to begin in the summer of 2017.

In a release, the NDP government said original estimates for the Chase four-laning project, completed in 2015, were done “with limited engagement and engineering and reflect a very early level of understanding about the project.”

Read more: Tender for construction of Salmon River Bridge to be issued in coming months

Read more: Trans-Canada Highway to be expanded to four lanes in Chase

Read more: Illegal dumping increasing along North Okanagan-Shuswap roads

“Since then, significant detailed engineering investigations, along with consultation with the Pespesellkwe of the Secwépemc Nation and the Village of Chase, have been completed,” the government press release stated, adding that work, combined with increasing labour costs and a hot construction market, resulted in the budget increase.

Stone said that claim is “simply not true,” arguing enough engineering investigations were done and the project was tender-ready in 2017.

“The design was done, the engineering work was done,” he said.

The other two phases include roadwork from Hoffman’s Bluff to Chase Creek Road, west of phase one, and Chase West to the Chase Creek Bridge to the east.

Stone said that eastern section was originally set to extend to Jade Mountain — a 3.4-kilometre section that is now just 1.6 kilometres in length.

According to the province, that phase will involve highway widening and an interchange at Brooke Drive, as well as other improvements on Brooke at Shuswap Avenue. Detailed design work and consultation is said to be ongoing, with work to start in 2021.

As for the Hoffman’s Bluff section, Stone noted it was only mentioned in the news release as no longer being in the construction schedule.

“That tells me that we’re not going to be able to expect to get that section done,” Stone said. “It’s doubtful at this point as to when it will start.”

The release stated the segment remains a priority, but as it runs through the Neskonlith reserve, the government is continuing to develop a design, determine the property required and address concerns of the band.

In 2017, Stone said, his government was “substantially in agreement with the Neskonlith” and all that remained was to secure a specific federal approval, which could have taken up to a year to receive.

“Chief Judy Wilson and I had spent a lot of time ensuring the needs of the Neskonlith Indian Band were met,” Stone said.

Stone believes the project has been altered to address cost escalation, which he blames largely on the requirement of union-only labour and three year delay. He said he intends to press the government in the weeks ahead regarding why the project cost has increased while its scope has shrunk.

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