The B.C. Liberals will spend $106 million on highway improvements around the Kamloops area if the party forms government in the Oct. 24 provincial election.
In the latest of a slew of promises, candidates Todd Stone of Kamloops-South Thompson and Peter Milobar from Kamloops North Thompson met with reporters outside their shared campaign office on Tranquille Road in North Kamloops on Friday (Oct. 9) to announce four key initiatives.
The Liberals plan to spend $75 million to return a four-laning project for Highway 1 through Chase to its original specifications. The project shrunk in scope and was delayed after the NDP took power in 2017.
The party will also spend $30 million to add three new passing lanes between Kamloops and Blue River on Highway 5 and another $1 million to repair a washed-out portion of Clearwater River Road.
Finally, if elected, the party plans to scrap community benefit agreements (CBAs) for major construction projects, arguing the deals only inflate costs and exclude businesses from being able to compete.
Stone said he has heard from the NDP that without CBAs. Indigenous people, women and local companies wouldn’t be working on local highways projects.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Stone said, noting that when he was transportation minister, the Hoffman’s Bluff four-laning project between Kamloops and Chase included record numbers of Indigenous and female workers. He said under his tenure, local companies always had the opportunity to work on highway projects whether they were a unionized shop or not.
He said CBA’s require companies to live near the project, which is not fair for local companies that may want to bid on contracts elsewhere in the province.
Stone contends the CBAs provide benefits to a select group of unions, which has resulted in increased costs on some projects.
He believes the Highway 1 four-laning project has been the victim of that policy. The original three-phased, 9.9-kilometre project, which he headed as minister of transportation, is now 4.9 kilometres between two phases of roadwork. And the original $199-million budget has grown to $260 million.
The NDP government has said the added cost is due to the project still requiring more planning work, but Stone contends it was “shovel-ready.”
The $75 million the Liberals intend to spend will pay to reimplement a five-kilometre third phase of four-laning east of Hoffman’s Bluff, through Neskonlith territory to Chase West, which the NDP had scrapped, saying it still trying to reach an agreement with the First Nation.
Stone said the Liberals will also commit to extending phase two of project all the way to Jade Mountain as originally intended — twice as long as the current government specifications. He also committed to adding a second interchange for the project, as originally proposed, rather than the single one in current plans.
Construction of phase one between Chase Creek Road and Chase West is already underway.
Asked if scrapping the CBA may delay phase one further, Stone said his party will need to examine whether that portion “is too far gone” to be changed, but he added future phases wouldn’t involve a CBA.
As for the added lanes on Highway 5, Milobar said a $10-million, two-kilometre passing lane will be built each year for three years “where the most need for those passing lanes are.”
Milobar said there has not been a continual advancement of safety projects along the Highway 5 corridor north of Kamloops under the NDP.
“And that’s a critical corridor,” Milobar said, adding the Liberals planned to conduct safety improvement projects annually, which he said stalled under the NDP in favour of studies.
As for the Clearwater River Road, Milobar noted it’s the main route used by whitewater rafting companies.
“The government was going to fast tract and move along with permitting and things have stalled,” Milobar said.