Nfld. & Labrador

Roadwork spending in transportation minister's district saw 854% increase in 3 years

Steve Crocker took a barrage of questions about roadwork in his district Thursday. CBC News crunched the numbers and found a huge increase last year.

Some of the highest per cent changes in spending happened in battleground districts

Transportation and Worlks Minister Steve Crocker speaking at the Confederation Building in St. John's. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

Steve Crocker fielded a barrage of questions in the legislature Thursday about spending on roads in his district — and numbers contained in an access to information request show the Opposition concerns are backed by data.

The district of Carbonear-Trinity-Bay de Verde has seen a large increase in roadwork since its MHA became the minister of transportation and works in 2017.

For the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the region saw $965,223 in work. That increased to $2.44 million the following year, and $9.2 million last fiscal. That's an 854 per cent increase over those three years.

While Opposition members had a field day with the figures, Crocker maintained there was nothing inappropriate about spending on highways around the Bay de Verde Peninsula.

"I've been touched myself by people that lost their lives on that stretch of highway," he said. "So don't question this government and what we've done for people of the Bay de Verde Peninsula."

PCs ask about their regions

The province's roads plan shows two projects in Crocker's district last year.

Crews pulverized and paved Route 74 (Heart's Content Highway) between Heart's Content and Victoria.

They also pulverized and paved Route 80 (Trinity Road) near New Chelsea-New Melbourne and upgraded an intersection in the same region.

Several PC members took the opportunity during question period to ask Crocker about problem areas in their districts

Helen Conway Ottenheimer — member for Harbour Main, which neighbours Crocker's district — asked why some of her constituents had to deal with "deplorable" roads one district over from the minister's.

The numbers show government actually spent more on Harbour Main last year than in the year previous — by more than double.

The rankings

Some of the highest per cent changes in the 2018-19 election year came in battleground districts.

The biggest percentage increase of all 40 districts was Grand Falls, where just $335 was spent on zero major projects in 2017-18 and $2,122,849 was spent in 2018-19. The Liberals lost that seat.

Third place was Burin-Grand Bank, which saw a close battle between Liberal Carol Anne Haley and PC Rex Matthews. Spending there went from $1.12 million to $6.56 million as government undertook two projects on the Burin Peninsula Highway.

Fifth place was Crocker's district — from $2.44 million to $9.2 million.

Steve Crocker came under fire in the House of Assembly this week for the amount of fresh pavement throughout his district. (CBC)

Sixth was Topsail-Paradise, where the Liberals fought hard but failed in trying to secure a longtime Tory seat vacated by former premier Paul Davis.

Seventh was Fogo Island-Cape Freels, where Liberal incumbent Derrick Bragg won his seat, but finished 15 percentage points lower than the previous election.

Eighth was Harbour Main, where Conway Ottenheimer ousted Liberal incumbent Betty Parsley.

Exploits, another district lost by the Liberals, was 11th in per cent increase.

But be wary of correlation versus causation — while the PCs are adamant there is evidence of "paving in politics," the largest decrease in total spending was also in a battleground district lost by the Liberals.

Mark Browne lost his seat in Placentia-Bellevue, where spending dropped from $9.74 million to $762,648.

Spending also held steady in Bonavista, where the Liberals lost a seat previously held by Neil King.

Five-year plan lays groundwork for roads

The government is guided on roadwork by its five-year plan, which sets out priorities well in advance.

There are already four projects planned for 2023.

Projects are ranked based on engineering assessments. The places those engineers assess are guided by public submissions. To inform the 2019 plan, government looked at 326 suggestions by the general public.

Crocker said government has paved 2,100 kilometres of roads in the last three years, spending more than $700 million in the process.

He also defended spending in his own region, saying 25 per cent of the province's seafood travels over the Bay de Verde Peninsula.

"I advocate for infrastructure for the people I represent, absolutely 100 per cent," he said. "But realize we've spent $154 million this year on roads in our province."

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With files from Anthony Germain