Delays over a much-needed highway project are raising hackles and accusations of playing politics in Chase.
In the normally quiet village of Chase on the shore of Little Shuswap Lake, it’s easy to detect an undercurrent of anger, frustration and doubt. It’s all related to a two-year delay on a much-needed Trans-Canada Highway upgrade.
“I’ve investigated many fatalities there,” laments retired Mountie and current village councillor Fred Torbohm – who detects a whiff of politics.
Torbohm notes the plan to four-lane a dangerous 11 kilometre stretch just west of Chase between Hoffman’s Bluff and Jade Mountain was ready for tender two years ago, with provincial and federal funding of $199 million. What changed? The government.
“Everything now goes to the coast, they get all the money, and in the Interior, we get nothing,” says Torbohm, saying he’s convinced rural communities aren’t a priority to an NDP government with only three Interior MLAs.
Torbohm’s fellow council member Steve Scott goes one step further. “I think part of it was because our MLA, Todd Stone is Liberal and was the former transportation minister, I think there is a kind of get me back.”
For Scott, the larger issue is what the scope of the highway upgrade will look like when it finally does go ahead:
“If they don’t go back to Treasury for more money, I doubt the project will be anywhere near what was originally promised.”
Scott is convinced that with inflation and government Community Benefit Agreements requiring public sector projects to employ union workers, the cost of his community’s much-wanted highway project could be as much as 35% over the original budget.
“If we don’t have proper access to the highway because they have to narrow the scope because of the dollars, emergency services are going to be screwed,” he speculates.
For the government’s part, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena has signaled she would like to see the Chase area highway upgrade go to tender later this year, with actual construction to begin by next spring.
While acknowledging the need to proceed with the project, Minister Trevena is also adamant that the current $199 million budget will be adequate to see the venture completed despite higher costs and added government regulations and she argued that point during an April 4th budget estimates debate:
T. Stone: “Is it the minister’s hope that the tender process will result in contractors sharpening their pencils to make up the difference, so as not to result in scope reduction or in the minister having to go back to Treasury Board for approval for a budget lift? Is that what I’m hearing — that she’s confident that the tenders will come in for less than what the ministry has previously projected they would be?”
Hon. C. Trevena: “We’re doing the due diligence on the technical side, continuing to work through all the scope and to make sure that it is ready. We do want to have, obviously, good bids. We would love it if those who want to bid on it are sharpening their pencils, are aware of this and are ready to come in with good bids.”
For now, the status of this project is among the hottest of topics on coffee row in Chase. Attempting to find a high road, Councillor Scott wonders whether the construction delay might possibly reduce village paving costs where new interchanges are planned.
Torbohm, however, sees no silver lining – and fears more may die before the situation is rectified.
Yet another example of the bumpy and winding road of BC’s black top politics.
Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.