LETTER: Upgrade the highway this century

Prime Minister, Premier, Ministers

Yesterday’s budget for Kamloops to Alberta Border upgrades increased funding by about 25 per cent over the next two years over the previous forecast. However the budget suggests there was an underspend of $24 million in 2017 from the forecast spending. If this is assumed to have been deferred (e.g. the Illicellewaet brake check construction that has been delayed from 2017 to 2018) then the true increase in spending over the next two years falls to 13 per cent. I also note that completion of the Salmon Arm West upgrade has been put back a year. I suppose this just about counts as the ‘acceleration’ of the Kamloops to Alberta Border upgrade program promised by the current provincial government of British Columbia in its platform commitments and ministerial mandates. Federal infrastructure work has started on 4 laning in Yoho National Park and is supporting phase 4 of the Kicking Horse Canyon project (which means that project should finally be completed 23 years after work started). There are also relatively minor improvements underway in Glacier National Park. However, the exact scope, funding and timescales of work being done in the National Parks is being kept quiet – the public seems to only get minimal information after work has started.

The Kamloops to Alberta border upgrade program for the Trans-Canada highway still has no plan, no timescales, no cost estimate and only a tiny fraction of the outstanding work is funded. Assuming that progress will continue at the same rate as since 2001 (less than 4 km p.a.) then the completion date for upgrading the two lane sections of the highway is around 2062 – i.e. the centenary of the opening of the highway. This slight acceleration in funding isn’t going to bring that appreciably closer – especially as many of the remaining sections will be almost as difficult and expensive to upgrade as Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4. This for the main transportation link between British Columbia and its Pacific Gateway and the rest of Canada. A route that has been called the most lethal highway in the Province (Global BC based on ICBC data).

Clearly you decision makers in Ottawa and Victoria don’t understand that for those of us who live and work on the Trans-Canada highway it is a matter of life and death (or life changing injury). I don’t expect the typical politician from far away (or bureaucrat or political advisor) to really care or really understand – for you is just a minor issue of the job you are doing for a while until you move on to something else. You will certainly have moved on long before you can claim credit for completing it. Also it is only a major issue for an insignificant number of voters in a remote part of the province. The significant economic impact of accidents and closures isn’t an election issue for the majority of voters so it can be and is ignored. Why spend on a program that won’t yield proportionate electoral benefits?

I don’t think there is any prospect of the completion of highway upgrades to safer, modern standards within my lifetime – even though I am the same age as the unimproved sections of the highway. I doubt that people born in 2001, when the Kicking Horse Canyon project started, will see upgrades completed before they reach retirement age. Indeed, I have severe doubts that some sections of the highway will ever be upgraded – human driven vehicles will probably be obsolete before that happens.

I would also argue that the current piecemeal upgrading of sections of the highway is a very inefficient way to spend our money. Especially when it may not be feasible to upgrade some sections of the highway – at least not at a cost that our governments are willing to pay. What it certainly achieves is to put even more pressure on the sections of highway that haven’t been upgraded and the communities that suffer from being served by and serving them.

I am not going to let you forget about this issue so I will keep banging my head against this brick wall in the faint hope that eventually you or your successors will take action.

– Nick Thomas

Revelstoke, B.C.

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