And can anyone tell me what is the biggest, as of yet relatively un-reported story of the week? Can you ? Didn’t think so, unless you happened to be listening to News 1130 recently, or reading the blog of the Powell River Persuader!
Dave White of News 1130 broke the news that – contrary to a press release in 2009, and another one in July of this year – the Port Mann bridge will not be completed a year ahead of schedule after all – but we will begin paying tolls on it, regardless.
From News 1130:
SURREY (NEWS1130) – Drivers who use the Port Mann Bridge will be paying a toll on the new crossing when it opens in 2012, even though it won’t be completely open to traffic. Project planners say you’ll still notice a significant reduction in traffic volume.
The bridge will be open to eight lanes of traffic late in 2012: three will be general purpose lanes and one HOV in each direction.
Its full capacity is 10 lanes, but the other two won’t be open until a year later, the province’s original projected opening date of December 2013.
As I said, the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.
Campbell originally said the bridge was slated to open in 2013.
Then, in April of last year, he said this:
People living south of the Fraser want to see this bridge built; Lower Mainland commuters want to see this bridge built; B.C. businesses want to see this bridge built; and the BC Liberals are building this bridge,” said Premier Campbell. “Finishing earlier means a year less congestion. It means having RapidBus service across the bridge a year earlier. It means the largest-ever investment in new cycling infrastructure will be ready for cyclists a year earlier.”
Yes, that bridge will be finished one year earlier than they thought. Toot those horns, pat yourselves on the back. In fact, Campbell liked the press that received so damn much, the government issued another press release in July of this year, and the press reported again, that the bridge was ” One third complete, on time and on budget ” .
So,after News 1130 broke the story yesterday that the bridge wasn’t going to be finished a year ahead of schedule after all , but we are going to be paying tolls a year ahead of schedule because it is partially open, how did Transportation Minister Shirley Bond, and Premier Gordon Campbell respond? Quite frankly, they didn’t.
After all, it seems there is some kind of confusion , a ” mis-communication of facts”, on their part.
According to News1130, Shirley Bond couldn’t be reached for comment. Gordon Campbell’s mouth is shut tight. A representative for the Port Mann project was located for comment :
Pam Ryan speaks for the $3 billion Port Mann/Highway One Improvement Project. She says eight lanes will be a major improvement over the five available right now. “The provincial tolling policy is really about tolling for a significantly improved infrastructure where there is a significant benefit. We know from some of the earlier consultation, undertaken with bridge users and they do support the principles of the toll.”
The toll won’t increase when the bridge fully opens in three years, but is expected to rise over time.
I highlighted the laughable portion, because I don’t know anyone who supports a toll on this bridge, and in particular it will be harder to swallow if it isn’t even complete!
So, considering the hypocritical nature of this latest development, why is this not being flashed all over the news? This government needs to be called out immediately, because the point is that despite previous assertions to the contrary, the Port Mann Bridge is still not going to be completed a year earlier, and whether or not it is on budget is high speculative as well, considering the auditor general just pointed out how irregular and disputable – their accounting practices related to the bridge construction are.
Let me say this. This Port Mann bridge project needs to have a thorough shakedown and review, going back to day 1. I’ve worked on many aspects of this story for the last couple years.
First, the province announces the new bridge will be a P3 project- a public private partnership – which allegedly reduces cost and risk for the government. It’s passed off as a great day for British Columbia, however the glow began to fade shortly thereafter.
Second, rumours circulate the financing of the preferred bidder, the Connect BC Development Group, is in trouble.
Within a short time , transportation minister at that time, Kevin Falcon announces that the province is going to lend the group the money to finance the project and that it is no longer going to be a P3, which is better because the province can get better lending rates than a contractor could??!!
This started a whirl of questions about how the province could undertake to finance such a huge amount, and why. Stories emerged that indicated the BC government had underwritten far more than they had admitted to, putting into question not only the math on the deal, but the ethics and nature of reasoning as to why Falcon would even consider such a deal. ( Interestingly enough, all the Sun links in these bits are no longer around, even in cached form)
To this day, the people of BC have never received an answer, because Falcon claimed the details were private and could not be released to the public. Contractors complained repeatedly to me that instead of financing the project, it should have gone to the next best bidder.
From the very beginning, this deal has been secretive,and questionable in every aspect. It began with the bids, the financing, the discretely conducted, behind-closed-doors dealing, and continues with very public deception on the incorrect completion date, the budgets and the toll amount .
The people of BC deserve to know the truth, and every detail of the highly suspect negotiations behind the Port Mann Bridge. They deserve to know how much the government committed itself to covering.
They deserve to know why a bidder who could not fulfill its obligation still ended up getting a very lucrative bid, when there were other bidders ready, willing and financially able to do the job, and pay for their share.
Most of all, they deserve to know why so much secrecy surrounds this entire project. In fact, if ever there were a project to be reported to the competition bureau for investigation, this would be the one.
The Port Mann Bridge project is a deal that, quite frankly, may see the taxpayers of BC on the hook for a hell of a lot more than they bargained for, and anything less than a full investigation into all aspects of this deal is unacceptable in my view.
* I contacted Dave White this morning, who has not received comment from Shirley Bond, or the Premier. I called the Premier’s office and spoke to Mat McInnes, who told me the premier was not available to comment because he is on ” personal time” for the next two weeks. I am still awaiting comment from Shirley Bond’s office, and will post it as it becomes available.