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Road rage? B.C. leaders nervous as feds hint they won’t buck up for highways

Politicians, business leaders want federal minister Steven Guilbeault to clarify comments
B.C. politicians and business leaders are calling on federal environment Steven Guilbeault to clarify comments that can read as Ottawa’s unwillingness to pay for additional transportation improvements to major highway corridors like Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley. (Langley Advance Times files)

Statements indicating little or no more federal money coming for road network upgrades didn’t go over to well with many B.C. political and business leaders this week.

The Canadian Construction Association said Environment minister Steven Guilbeault needs to clarify statements made in a Montreal newspaper interview that existing road infrastructure “is perfectly adequate to respond to the needs we have’ and that “there will be no more envelopes from the federal government to enlarge the road network.”

He paired his comments with a stated goal of getting more people into public transit and out of their cars as part of a larger transformation to help meet Canada’s climate change goals. Guilbeault later clarified he was referring to “larger projects.”

B.C. has been pushing the federal government for additional funding to improve roads, bridges and ports, mainly in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria, but also elsewhere. The BC Construction Association and BC Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association said such investments are critical against a backdrop of climate change causing wildfires and floods to ensure the flow of goods and people.

“Road-building is critical and road-building in British Columbia is more than just an investment in infrastructure and moving goods,” BCCA president Chris Atchison said. “Because, when you are investing in roads, you are also investing in the workforce and men and women and the companies that build those roads and the families and the communities that rely on them.”

“So this hesitation on projects that are underway right now…is a knee-jerk reaction that belies a bigger problem,” he said. “We need to be planning and committing to our infrastructure 20, 30 years in advance and remove the ambiguity that is essential for communities, it’s essential for our economy.”

RELATED: Expanding Highway 1 to cut gridlock through Fraser Valley enters next phase

Premier David Eby and Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens also criticized Guilbeault’s comments during a joint appearance in Abbotsford Wednesday (Feb. 14).

Eby said B.C. needs federal support to widen Highway 1 and replace the Massey Tunnel, adding Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley is a national trade corridor.

“It would be good to understand from the federal government and to have some clear commitments, a re-commitment to the promises they made to us around this essential infrastructure, because these comments have obviously made a lot of us very nervous,” Eby said.

Siemens said Guilbeault’s comments miss how Highway 1 is an “incredible and significant” component in the national movement of goods to and from the Port of Vancouver, adding any improvements do not represent a cost.

“In fact, I would argue that it is an investment that will help grow the economy, that will help feed the province, that will build the critical infrastructure that’s needed west of us and here in our own community.”

RELATED: Ottawa cites jobs, capacity, approves B.C.’s Roberts Bank Terminal 2 port expansion

BC United MLA Ian Paton represents Delta South, a region anticipating a spike in traffic through the expansion of its port.

“The Massey Tunnel Replacement Project requires federal funding,” he said on X. “The feds and provincial NDP seem intent on moving people out of their cars and into public transportation, without providing the required infrastructure.”

Research has linked congestion and its resulting time loss with reduced profits, lower mental health and higher greenhouse emissions. Research prior to the COVID-19 pandemic showed congestion on the rise in Canada.

A 2021 Canadian Automobile Association study recommended targeted improvements to road infrastructure to break bottlenecks. But it also recommended investments in public transportation, active transportation and congestion charges to use infrastructure among other changes.

Black Press Media has reached to Guilbeault’s ministry for comment.

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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