B.C.’s Auditor General has reviewed the construction and operation contracts for the Sea to Sky Highway and found while the paperwork was all in order the provincial department responsible for the project has not yet demonstrated it met its long-term objectives.
AG John Doyle’s report on the public-private partnership, or P3 project and its contracts including ongoing maintenance and operations was tabled in the legislature last Thursday (July 19).
“We audited how well the results came out of that process,” Doyle said. “Generally it was a good result.
“There were a few issues I raised in my report specifically to the Sea to Sky Highway that I felt should be looked at by the Ministry of Transportation.”
That included the fact the Ministry of Transportation was not able to demonstrate through data collected that the project met safety and reliability objectives.
“One criteria we said they did not meet very well was measurement of safety and reliability,” he said. “We had asked the ministry for data and nothing substantive was forthcoming.”
However, Doyle said since the preparation of the audit that situation has changed and the ministry has committed to making the data publicly available.
The ministry’s response to that audit finding states: “Ministry data clearly shows that there have been significant reductions in accidents on the Sea to Sky Highway since the main improvements were completed.”
There was a 40 per cent reduction in accident rates on the highway from 217 in 2004 to 124 in 2011.
Doyle also found in his audit there was a change in ownership in the company that holds the contract to continue maintenance of the highway but the province did not exercise its right to see what had changed.
He recommended that happen as well as all key documentation and decision record be kept available.
“This agreement is over quite an extensive period and we need access for all the key documents,” he said.
Another finding by Doyle was that the ministry did not review the contracts in the context of the impact of switching from the HST to the PST.
He said in a different P3 contract his office found it is possible the government could be paying HST on the PST – or in other words paying taxes on taxes.
“We suggested they should go and have a look at it,” Doyle said. “We anticipate and expect every single recommendation to be implemented over time.”
The Sea to Sky Highway is 95 kilometres long and passes through the coastal mountains connecting a number of communities from West Vancouver to Whistler.
In January 2003 the Treasury board approved $600 million to improve the highway and in 2005 the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure entered into a P3 agreement with the Sea-to-Sky Highway Investment Limited Partnership to design, build and finance about two-thirds of the improvements and operate and maintain the entire highway for 25 years.