Saskatchewan

Regina bypass deficiency costs not a concern for taxpayers: gov't

The Minister of Agriculture David Marit says he doesn't know how much it will cost to fix deficiencies on the Regina Bypass project because the taxpayers do not pay for them.

NDP calls government response to bypass concerns ‘pattern of contempt’

The NDP has been critical of the government's response to issues at the Regina bypass, including the Balgonie roundabout. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Saskatchewan's Minister of Agriculture David Marit says he doesn't know how much it will cost to fix deficiencies on the Regina Bypass project because the taxpayers do not pay for them.

Marit, the former minister of highways, was answering questions from the NDP on Thursday on behalf of Highways Minister Lori Carr, who was away.

"It's a signed deal. It doesn't matter what the deficiencies were. Yes, there were some major ones. I'll give you an example, on Wascana Creek, they hit an aquifer, Mr. Speaker. I don't know what the cost was for us was to fix because we don't care as taxpayers, the partners pay for that," Marit said.

"That's who is paying for it Mr. Speaker, not the taxpayers of this province."

Under the P3 agreement, additional costs to fix the $1.88 billion mega-project are to be paid by the builder and not the taxpayer.

"We are paying for it, $1.8 billion so far," said NDP MLA Cathy Sproule. "Taxpayers paid $600 million last year for the bypass and they will pay another big chunk this year."

Government explains aquifer incident

Marit said the aquifer he mentioned was hit by bypass builders. The government provided CBC the following statement about the incident.

"In 2016, an aquifer was accidentally hit while piles were being driven in during construction of the east Wascana Bridge Crossing. Ministry of Environment officials attended, and confirmed there were no environmental issues or risks. A contractor was brought in and fixed the issue with all additional costs covered by Regina Bypass Partners," the statement said.

It went on to say this is not classified as a "major deficiency" because it was not "so severe that the infrastructure can't be opened to traffic without jeopardizing safety."

In an email obtained by the NDP through access to information, a highways official said there were 1,100 minor deficiencies found in phase one of the bypass as of Oct. 2017.

One of those minor deficiencies was an issue over the curbs on the Balgonie roundabout.

The email said "roundabouts non-compliance is considered a minor deficiency because it only impacts a fraction of the permitted trucks."

"So what is a major deficiency if that's minor?" Sproule said.

The NDP has asked for a detailed list of the major and minor deficiencies.

"(The Minister of Highways) talks about public safety, well, let's make sure citizens are safe to travel on the constructed bypass," Sproule said.

NDP critical of government response, attitude to Balgonie bypass concerns

Last week, the NDP raised questions about the government's response to concerns raised by Balgonie-area residents in 2017.

The access point, just off Balgonie's Main Street and onto Highway 1, was closed permanently, which led to a petition signed by 2,000 people.

The province ended up allowing emergency vehicles to use the closed route.

The bypass at Balgonie opened on July 26, 2017. Within days, drivers complained about the raised curbs making the roadway too narrow.

According to documents provided by the Sask. NDP, highway officials discussed the issue after reports arose of a semi truck becoming stuck at Highway 46 and 365 at the Balgonie overpass in September 2017.

In email obtained by the NDP, highways officials indicated that the vertical curbs on the Balgonie overpass would not be replaced in 2017. One official asked if it could be done before winter.

The Regina Bypass Design Partners responded that it had "no capacity to do extensive rework on the roundabouts at Balgonie this year."

It maintained that the roundabouts are large enough for semi-trailers and other large farm equipment.

Alanna Koch was the deputy minister to the premier at the time and said in an email to highways officials on Aug. 2, "I continue to hear a lot from farmers and other locals. This has taken on an urban myth hysteria as farmers rage about not being about to move combines and haul grain with Super B trucks."

Fred Antunes, the deputy minister of highways, responded by outlining strategies to "get ahead of this without using the media (who are not helping us)." He suggested the government produce a video showing farm equipment navigating the roundabout or hold an open house.

In July 2018, the Regina bypass partners listed work on the curbs on its website, "finishing work on the Balgonie Roundabouts will include adjustments of the outside lane curbing, to allow for easier movement."

"The biggest concern is the lack of concern by the Regina bypass partners in terms of fixing deficiency at the Balgonie, it took them an entire year," Sproule said.

"We're seeing a pattern on contempt almost and certainly disdain for the concerns of Saskatchewan citizens, right from the premier's office down to the deputy minister and other officials."

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 12 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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