Some things just need to be said...

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A bridge too far

too far from Victoria that is...

in the heartlands! (whoops, the government did away with the strategy)

The BC Liberal government won't be building a promised bridge linking the North Okanagan and the Arrow Lakes/Kootenays anytime soon.

The government promised to construct the bridge as part of its so-called heartland strategy. But it sent the design back after saying the rising steel prices had pushed costs well beyond the original budget

The bridge from Needles to Fauquier has been in the making for over 40 years. It got exciting again these past few years with Liberal MLA's announcing it will be done, over and over.

Needles and Fauquier are connected by Ferry. The bridge if it is ever built would connect the North Okanagan near Vernon with the Arrow Lakes/Kootenays near Nakusp. The prospect of increased tourism recreation and business opportunities is significant.

As late as January 2005, then BC Liberal MLA Blair Suffredine was hauling Ministry of transportation staff through the Kootenays with the above photo depicting what the bridge would look like. The Liberal MLA said construction in May. It has occurred to me that he did not say what year!

Locals in Nakusp had said at the public meeting in January, "Gordon Campbell was on record as saying something to the effect of, "After we build the bridge in Fauquier then we can talk about a Nakusp bridge."

All I can add to that is don't hold your breath in Nakusp.

Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon said yesterday his ministry has reviewed the project in light of the rising costs of the Arrow Lake structure south of Nakusp and has failed to produce an obvious cheaper option.

The Heartland strategy announced by the Premier February 12, 2003 provided good reason to believe the bridge would finally get some traction. The project was one of eight listed in the press release put out by the Premier's office ... Begin planning for a new bridge at Needles that will connect the Okanagan with Nakusp and the Arrow Lakes.

The primary press release of February 12, 2003, PREMIER DETAILS PRIORITIES FOR OPENING UP B.C. was much less ambiguousus...

"...The government will launch a major program of transportation infrastructure improvements to open up B.C.'s heartlands to new economic opportunities. Specific measures will include an investment of $609 million over three years for heartlands roads; a $670-million upgrade to the Trans-Canada Highway through the Kicking Horse Canyon, cost-shared with the federal government; improvements to Highways 97, 95 and 3; new bridges, one across Lake Okanagan at Kelowna, the other at Needles...."

The Mayor of Nakusp, Bill Cowan met with Liberal MLA Blaire Sufferdine on March 27, 2005 and discussed "bridges rather than ferries." Cowan had met March 12 with then NDP candidate, Corky Evans on the same issue. (Evans was elected MLA on May 17, 2005.)

The Minister has said that the bridge cost was way over the original budget, blaming steel prices. Perhaps they should have started construction in 2003 on the two bridges promised by the Premier. Rising costs have added about 25 to 40 million dollars to the William R Bennett bridge over Okanagan Lake. Further delays on the Needles bridge can only make it more expensive.

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