News brief: Impact of COVID-19 on Trans-Canada upgrades unknown

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure spokesperson said timelines are for the four-laning projects in Chase Creek and Salmon Arm to be tendered and start construction this year

Crews install girders over the railway as part of the Clan William Bridge rebuild in 2012. Photo: Ministry of Transportation

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is still unsure what impact the COVID-19 outbreak will have on the timeline for the Trans-Canada Kamloops to Alberta Four-Laning project.

Work on highway projects in the Kicking Horse area are expected to bring considerable highway traffic disruption, impacting businesses that rely on highway traffic. The projects are also a significant source of regional employment and industrial construction activity.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation said they are following the advice and orders of the provincial health officer and federal government to keep British Columbians as safe as possible to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.

“Currently, it is too early to estimate impacts on timelines,” the spokesperson said in an email to the Mountaineer.

Nick Thomas, a Revelstoke resident who has been tracking the provincial budget for the highway project echoed the ministry’s stance, saying the COVID-19 outbreak could result in delays.

“Who knows what’s going to happen with spending next year because of what’s going on at the moment,” said Thomas.

The Kamloops to Alberta Four-Laning project began with the Kicking Horse Canyon Project in 2002, Thomas began tracking provincial spending on the project when the B.C. Liberal government under Kristy Clark made a promise to invest $650 million on the project in 2012. Thomas said during the first five years of the project the liberals spent about a third of the $650 million budget, but noted that certain phases including phase four of the Kicking Horse Canyon and the Chase West to Salmon Arm West would have likely used up the remainder of the money.

In late 2019, the provincial NDP government announced a $386 million increase in the provincial investment to expand a section of the Kicking Horse Canyon. A ministry spokesperson said the request for proposals has been issued with the contract award and start of construction expected to start in summer 2020. Currently, construction the Illecillewaet project near Revelstoke is in winter shut down and the Salmon Arm West pre-load work has also been completed. The spokesperson said timelines are for the four-laning projects in Chase Creek and Salmon Arm to be tendered and start construction this year.

”Other projects are in various stages of design and consultation, and staff have worked closely with local and Indigenous communities,” said the spokesperson.

The provincial budget for 2020 includes a $1.044 billion investment for the highway project over the next three years. However, Thomas said so far the NDP government hasn’t been spending what they’ve forecast on the project, saying it most likely comes down to delays due to the Community Benefits Agreements, which prioritizes using local and apprenticeship workers.

“The other thing I keep hammering on them is they call it a Kamloops to Alberta program, but it’s basically just a headline with no real program. It’s a series of individual projects with no overall plan, no overall time scale or cost,” said Thomas.