Highway to nowhere

TC Media newsroom@thewesternstar.com
Published on December 28, 2016

Remember the lowly centimetre?

On the newspaper page, in an ordinary news story, the good old centimetre is just long enough to spell out the word “politics.”

Not “politics as usual” or “provincial politics” or “chequebook politics,” just plain old “politics.”

There can be a lot of centimetres, if that’s what you choose as a standard of measure.

For example, the extension to the Team Gushue Memorial Highway, started in 2011 when oil money was flowing and the good times were rolling, is 7.3 kilometres, or 730,000 centimetres.

With the money invested so far, and for the money that’s expected to be spent over the next few years, that roadwork costs out at about 82.5 cents for every single centimetre of road. (Yes, that includes the overpasses and pavement, too.)

There’s already some $38.2 million sunk into the road, which currently only consists of overpasses and crushed stone. There’s another $22 million that was supposed to be spent this year, but instead will appear some time in the next two years.

It was supposed to be finished in 2013. Then, 2015. Now, by 2020 — perhaps. It was, at one point, budgeted at $45 million. Then, it was $50 million. Now, $60.2 million — and even that’s unlikely to be the final cost, even though it’s already 33 per cent over budget.

In other words, like the Muskrat Falls project, like the new Corner Brook hospital, like the new Placentia lift bridge, like ferry boats and ferry docks, like a legion of other provincial projects, the Team Gushue highway extension has failed to come in either even close to its planned budget or even close to being on time.

The old saying use to be “death by a thousand cuts.”

In provincial budgeting, it’s either “death by a thousand change orders” or “death by a thousand miscalculations.” Any way you slice it, though, it cuts taxpayers to the bone.

So here’s an idea for what is just the latest expensive project that fails to meet any of its goals.

Maybe we shouldn’t finish the highway at all.

Maybe we can make it into a memorial, to remind us about the hollow words of politicians and the mistakes we made in our own careers in not starting a heavy civil engineering business.

Maybe we should just rename it the “Pride Cometh Before a Fiscal Fall Highway” and leave it just exactly like it is — a super-wide, virtually useless ATV trail — to remind us that our provincial governments are woefully unable to deliver on promises or prices, even (or especially) during the best of financial times.

Every time we hear a new promise, we could drive across the Kenmount Road overpass that should lead to new highway but doesn’t, and gaze out instead on a vast field of fine gravel and crushed promises.