When I published the photos of the conditions of just three of the 219 retaining walls on the Sea to Sky Highway last year, the Ministry of Transportation said the issue was merely cosmetic, and that the walls are inspected annually.
Then the news that in fact a fourth retaining wall needed significant structural repairs such as soil anchors installed, along with a new reinforced wall face. Work would take 6 months. Residents below the wall were rightfully angry at the inconvenience,and distrustful of the contradiction between the need for repairs… and the word that everything was fine.
NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena had some questions for Transportation Minister Todd Stone in the legislature earlier this week, and I promised a transcript for you. Better yet,Ms.Trevena has posted a video so that you may see for yourself the questions Ms. Trevena asked… and the answers Mr. Stone gave.
I’m not sure whose questions he was answering,but they certainly weren’t the ones she was asking.
This is your government in action. He denied, deflected and then tried to discredit because he did not want to answer these questions. Nor was he ordered to answer the question despite his foray into the Netherlands of his mapped route of deflection.
It wasn’t until much later that Minister Stone advised media Kiewit and the S2S Transportation Group would be covering all the costs for the repairs,and that ” making repairs like this to a project just five years after its completion is normal.”
Actually, according to project documents, the design lifespan for these retaining walls is 75 years:
Installing soil anchors that help hold the wall in place, and building an entirely new reinforced wall face, are not normal, routine repairs. It would be comparable to buying a brand new home only to move in and a year later, find out the foundation needs to be re-done.
Would you consider that normal? No.
And lets not forget those Ministry of Transportation emails I have contradicting the first public claim that walls are inspected annually – made last year – and Stones new statement that staff are inspecting things daily around the province.
Or that according to that same Ministry employee, Kiewit found no changes or anything of concern with the walls in question.
Which is more than likely the reason why Kiewit and the S2S Transportation Group is on the hook now which for what is clearly a defective wall.
Some of you might be wondering why this matters, or why this really pisses me off so much, so let me tell you. If you don’t care, move along.
I’ve always been a bit of a policy wonk who endlessly thinks of ways to make a better province. So, back in 2008 when I was really more than a bit peeved that the Golden Ears and the Port Mann was to be tolled, while the Sea to Sky highway was not, I started doing some research to find out why those decisions were made.
In my view then, it was ridiculous that the Golden Ears was tolled while the Sea to Sky was not. A responsible government would take advantage of the traffic out to one of our most scenic drives and tourist destinations, make it resident/business exempt and charge tolls: you want to play, you have to pay. I feel the same way now,but sadly the last Liberal government signed away the right to toll that highway on the P3 contract.
By October 2009, still developing my contacts and sources, I had yet to find out why that highway wasn’t tolled. And again, I called for tolls on that highway as a source of revenue for this province. ( of course no one listened to me back then, I was just a blogger… : )
It wasn’t until 2010 that sources in the industry revealed to me the reason why it was never tolled… and never would be until the contract with the P3 partner was up.
And that was the beginning of the now infamous Shadow Toll series that ended up receiving national coverage courtesy of Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail.
I had received confidential documents from insiders to the deal that had signed confidentiality agreements not to speak about the project details until it was done. And when it was done, they revealed all, in conferences, in bulletins and much more. Financiers bragged of the lucrative nature of the shadow tolls… something our government affectionately refers to as ” vehicle usage payments”. The private partner makes so much money on this highway, that the financer sold their share to a private fund a couple of years ago.
Now, every time you or I drive that highway, we inadvertently help make a reliable and strong rate of return on other people’s retirement investments. In a wobbly world economy, P3 projects like this highway are considered a very safe investment.
But I digress.
In the face of all this documented, now public evidence, our government when confronted, lied to the press, taking advantage of the lack of specific industry and contract terminology knowledge they had. They said it wasn’t true.
I couldn’t believe it. (If you care to spend a bit of time rehashing all of it, head over to the Best Of page where it is still listed. https://lailayuile.com/best-of/)
There were more stories uncovered that again, were denied, deflected and the effort to discredit was intense. And it still is whenever a column or blog post hits home. Reporters often like to say when the fire is incoming over your shoulder you know you are close to your target: there is trash talk, there are rumours,anything to deflect the attention from the story at hand.
Just like Todd Stones response to Claire Trevena. He won’t simply say the contractor screwed up and we are likely going to have some serious repairs coming all over this highway but we don’t want to talk about that…..because it opens a massive barrel of worms no government anywhere would want to talk about.
He starts talking about how the NDP had issues or opposed projects while the Liberals built them. And on. And then some more.
And he never does answer how it is that a highway that cost so much damn money, is needing serious structural repairs after only 5 years.
Nor does he take the chance to negate all of this by providing the inspection reports that Kiewit conducted or agreeing to an independent agency review of those walls.
Why does this matter?
Because the funny thing about retaining walls is that it can be pretty hard to predict what going on behind them. Kiewit already did substandard work on one retaining wall on the Port Mann Project that had to be rebuilt. And court cases resulted following the collapse of of a highway widening project retaining wall that collapsed during construction in California. And while the walls on the sea to sky may not be in danger of collapsing,the province refuses to be straightforward about any of this.
So,yes, those inspection reports of Kiewits on these retaining walls do matter. Because like the shadow toll story, this one is becoming rife with contradictions,spin and deflections.
But what do I know? I’m just a writer, not a transportation minister.