Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Front line highway workers raise the alarm over standards

Their morale isn't particularly good at the moment and workers on British Columbia's highways who have just completed a maintenance survey are raising some flags about our highways this summer.

With British Columbia relying on contractors to handle the road maintenance requirements of the province, each district can at times feature entirely different road conditions from neighbouring ones, a system that many suggest leads to less than ideal conditions for those that travel the provinces highway system.

Tuesdays Daily News provided some background on the survey and the larger issue of road maintenance in British Columbia.

Highway workers call for improved standards
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pages one and two

A survey completed in June by 200 front-line British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union highway workers shows there are serious concerns about the province's road maintenance standards.

The survey outlines many of the frustrations with contractors and accountability by the government to enforce standards.

Six out of 10 highway workers surveyed said private contractors are not meeting standards that are set by the government. A further 11 per cent said those standards are only met some of the time.

Almost seven out of 10 workers are frustrated because not enough resources are being allocated to properly maintain highway infrastructure, and those workers suggest provincial roads and bridges should be brought back into the public sector.

Some 70 percent agree the situation is so bad that three out of four workers worry that declining maintenance standards are putting safety for the travelling public at risk.

On-the-job, worker morale has worsened during the past year, according to 62 percent of respondents while 63 percent say workload has increased.

The survey was completed as a random process which reached one out of every 10 highway workers in the B.C.G.E.U.

"Amid public concerns about the state of our transportation infrastructure, the poll results confirms that there are real problems in the current system," said Darryl Walker, BCGEU president.

"The insights and experiences of front-line workers point to the need for fundamental changes. The Campbell Liberals and contractors have to move quickly to restore standards, upgrade enforcement and deliver proper resources to get the job done. If they don't, then the only option may be to bring maintenance back into the public sector."

As a result of the survey, 39 municipalities have signed on to press the Campbell government to impose better services, including 100 Mile House, Alberni-Clayquot Regional District, Belcarra, Burnaby, Chase, Chetwynd, Coquitlam, Cumberland, Dawson Creek, Enderby, Grand Forks, Granisle, Greenwood, Kamloops, Kent, Kitimat, Ladysmith, Nakusp, North Saanich, Port Alberni, Port Alice, Princeton and Quesnel.

Other municipalities signing on include the Regional District of East Kootney, Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, Revelstoke, Salmo, Sicamous, Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District, Smithers, Sooke, Squamish, Terrace, Trail, Ucluelet, Vernon, Warfield, Wells and Williams Lake.
For municipalities that have yet to voice their concern, BCGEU Communications spokesperson Stephen Howard said it is not too late.

"We would be honoured to have more municipalities, especially those along Highway 97 and Highway 16 for whom road issues are critical."

Alongside these accusations comes news from the province and the federal government that the two levels of government will jointly fund up to $231 million worth of National Highway System improvements in B.C., under the Building Canada Plan.

Premier Gordon Campbell made the announcement last week, alongside Stockwell Day, federal Minister of Public Safety on behalf of Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, Kevin Falcon, B.C. Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Ron Cannan, MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, and Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Al Horning.

"This investment is an outstanding example of our ongoing partnership with the federal government, and our continued commitment to deliver needed road projects throughout the province," said Premier Campbell.

"We're enhancing B.C.'s highway system to improve safety, enhance the flow of goods and people, and tap into new opportunities in trade and tourism."

The first project to receive funding involves building a nine-kilometre four-lane highway west of the existing two-lane section of Highway 97 between Winfield and Oyama. The province will contribute $44.3 million and the federal government will provide up to $33.6 million through the Building Canada Plan toward the total $77.9-million cost, with work on that project scheduled to be completed by 2012.

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