REVELSTOKE, B.C. - When Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced the feds would pay for half the cost of twinning the remainder of the Trans-Canada Hwy. (TCH) through New Brunswick, you could almost hea...
REVELSTOKE, B.C. – When Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced the feds would pay for half the cost of twinning the remainder of the Trans-Canada Hwy. (TCH) through New Brunswick, you could almost hear the collective teeth grinding from officials in Western Canada.
A string of fatal crashes on the single-lane stretch of TCH through Western Alberta and Eastern B.C. this summer has renewed calls for the twinning of the highway in those areas. Saskatchewan has also been pleading for some help in completing the four-laning of its portion of the Trans-Canada, where more than 100km are yet to be twinned.
However, when Chretien and New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord shook hands in St. Leonard, N.B. last month to cement the deal it didn’t take long for Western Canadians to voice their displeasure.
Revelstoke mayor, Gail Bernacki, wasted no time in telling local media the decision to favor Eastern Canada over the West was no surprise.
“We’re already feeling alienated out West enough,” she complains.
Merv Krywa is the president of the lobby group Revelstoke for a Safe Trans-Canada Highway. He notes there are about 12 fatal accidents on the single-lane stretch of highway between Lake Louise, Alta. and Salmon Arm, B.C. each year. While he isn’t surprised Chretien chose to fund the Eastern portions of the TCH first, he says it’s hopefully a sign that the Western span will receive attention too.
“The East is where the vote is so it doesn’t surprise me (New Brunswick received funding first),” says Krywa.
“But the P.M. did say he was going to continue with his legacy so hopefully that’s just a start,” he also states.
Krywa says little has been done to upgrade the TCH through the Revelstoke region since it was initially built in 1962.
“The truck traffic has quadrupled in the last 10 years and that’s part and parcel about what’s so treacherous about it,” says Krywa.
“The truckers know the road and there’s a constant push on the car traffic to move a little faster, which doesn’t help matters.”
With few passing areas along the winding route, traffic tends to get bottled up prompting some motorists to make unsafe – and often deadly – decisions.
“You know the congestion that occurs when you get a lot of trucks, especially on very narrow two-lane highways where there’s no place to pull out to pass,” says Krywa.
In Saskatchewan, Highways Minister Mark Wartman is counting on the feds to show the same commitment to the West as they recently demonstrated in New Brunswick.
“We’ve been discussing with the federal government the potential for their participation in twinning (the TCH) through Saskatchewan as well,” says Wartman. “We’re hopeful there’s going to be funding not just for New Brunswick but for Saskatchewan and support for all the provinces. I know B.C. and Manitoba are both looking forward to some federal support as well.”
Like New Brunswick, Saskatchewan is prepared to go 50/50 to fund the twinning of the remaining single-lane stretch of TCH through the province, but Wartman is hopeful the feds will recognize the investment the province has already made.
“We’re quite prepared to (split the cost 50/50) but it would be a great benefit if they would recognize the significant contribution that we’ve already put in,” says Wartman.
He notes Saskatchewan has sunk $2.47 billion into the province’s portions of the national highway system over the past 10 years while the federal government has only contributed a measly $290 million.
“You can see that proportionally, they haven’t carried anywhere near their 50 per cent to this point,” he adds.
While Chretien has been urged by his advisors to twin the TCH from coast-to-coast as part of his legacy, it remains to be seen whether the West will get the same treatment as New Brunswick and Eastern Canada. However, Wartman says until there’s a national highways program in place that puts adequate funding into the nation’s highways, there’s no way the province can do it alone.
“Right now we’re the only one of the G8 countries that doesn’t have a federally-funded national highways transportation system,” points out Wartman.
While those provinces with single-lane stretches of TCH are eager to see those portions twinned, the B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) is opposed to arbitrarily twinning the entire system.
In a recent letter to Chretien, BCTA president, Paul Landry wrote: “BCTA believes that the federal government, in co-operation with provincial and municipal governments, should cost share on key strategic investments, rather than twinning the Trans-Canada Highway from coast to coast.
“We should be investing in projects that will not only benefit major economic centres, but also help to support the provincial and national economies,” the fleet group adds.
Landry says the capacity of the TCH and other well-travelled highways should be increased in areas that see the heaviest traffic volumes. He goes on to say strategic highway investments should be carried out using existing tax revenue, rather than additional fuel taxes or road tolls.