July 29, 2020

Nearly two years after the Province of British Columbia announced it would begin to build publicly funded infrastructure projects under a Community Benefits Agreement, construction is finally underway on two cornerstone projects.

Construction crews were out in force this summer working on upgrading and expanding Highway 1 between Kamloops and Alberta and clearing the ground for the Pattullo Bridge Replacement project.

BC Building Trades members were excited to finally be able to show the difference the Community Benefits Agreement makes by prioritizing local hire and creating opportunities for Indigenous workers and women.

“We’ve been looking forward to getting down to work on these projects since the Community Benefits Agreement was announced,” said Jeff Gorham, training administrator for the Operating Engineers Local 115 Training Association. “We just started our first all-women Heavy Equipment Operator course in partnership with the YWCA in June. They’ll be ready to work on the Pattullo Bridge Replacement in September.”

The province has committed $1.044 billion to upgrade Highway 1. Last summer saw construction on the first phase, beginning with improvements to a small two-kilometre stretch of the highway in Illecillewaet, 30 minutes east of Revelstoke, B.C.

In that first phase of construction, 35 per cent of total project trade hours were completed by local residents, while 23 per cent were completed by women and 10 per cent were completed by indigenous people. Construction on Illecillewaet will continue this summer.

The Salmon Arm phase of the project went to tender last June with the announcement of the four-laning of 1st Avenue SW to 10th Avenue SW.

The next phase of construction will be on the Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4 section of Highway 1, east of Golden. This section of two-lane undivided highway has sharp curves, narrow shoulders and steep gradients. Construction is scheduled to start in late September to early October.

This section of the road is known for its dangerous terrain with an accident rate that is three times the provincial rate. Allied Infrastructure and Related Construction Council (AIRCC) representative Brian Zdrilic said Building Trades unions are up for the challenge.

“It’s one of the most hazardous portions of road in B.C. It’s got over a dozen ‘S’ curves that must be re-aligned, high elevations, rock that has to be blasted and unpredictable weather,” said Zdrilic. “This challenging work is exactly what our members are trained to do.”

At its highest point, the road reaches 5,390 feet. There will be three bridges constructed over a 4.8-kilometre stretch of the project.

“We’re anticipating 1.8 million person hours over the course of 3.5 seasons for the Kicking Horse phase,” said Zdrilic. “That will be between 250 and 300 workers at peak.”

Construction on the Pattullo Bridge replacement began in July. The first unions on site were the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115, Teamsters Local 213, and the Labourers International Union of North America Local 1611.

The Pattullo Bridge replacement will take over five years with 300 workers expected at peak. There will be plenty of work for the civil trades with 2.7 million person hours expected over the course of construction.

“This is a historical moment for the Labourers union,” said Labourers Local 1611 business manager Nav Malhotra. “The new Pattullo Bridge will be a landmark. Every time our members see the bridge, they’ll know they put their footprint on it.”

The Broadway Subway is the next project coming up under the Community Benefits Agreement. It will extend the Millennium Line approximately 5.7 kilometres from the VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus Street. The project will start with elevated track and then continue underground beneath Broadway.

The procurement process has not been completed yet. Construction is anticipated to start in October 2020.

This project will engage almost all trades. With an anticipated 4.7 million person hours, construction will take between five and six years and employ 400 workers at peak.

Now that shovels are finally in the ground on Community Benefits Projects, the public can see what a difference these projects make. Support for CBAs has never been higher. A recent Research Co. poll found 74 per cent of British Columbians support CBAs, and an even larger majority (77 per cent) support using them to help the province recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As B.C. starts to build its recovery, expect Community Benefits projects to factor into future infrastructure plans.

By Brynn Bourke
Senior Director of Engagement