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Christy Clark's 'new transportation strategy' is only partly so

" Our government is making sure we can get our goods to market as efficiently and quickly as possible and this strategy is a huge part of that plan," says Premier Christy Clark as she announces plans for new spending on provincial highways.

Christy Clark made a speech Monday in which she said she was launching "a new transportation strategy" that will expand trade and help private businesses create jobs. She went on to describe public and private investments that have been made in British Columbia since 2005, and investments that the government expects will be required by 2020.

The government intends to spend $700-million on provincial highways over the next five years, according to projects listed in a news release distributed after her speech. Ms. Clark did not elaborate on the information.

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Her staff insisted that the spending was new government money and the projects had not been previously announced. Details were to be released later this spring, staff said.

However, the Transportation and Infrastructure Ministry confirmed that much of the work to be undertaken was already included in plans presented to the legislature six weeks ago, when the B.C. budget was presented in the legislature.

Ms. Clark's new program to spend $700-million by 2017 is essentially an extension by two years of the ministry's previously released service plan, the Transportation Ministry says.

Contrary to the political spin, Ms. Clark unveiled a program based on documents released in February and currently posted on the ministry website.

The service plan says that improving infrastructure to drive economic growth and trade is the ministry's number one goal. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Blair Lekstrom stated in an introduction to the service plan that government and industry partners have collaborated on an expansion costing more than $22-billion in port, rail, road and airport infrastructure.

He stressed the importance of rehabilitation and maintenance of highways. "Over the next three years, we will invest $515-million in road and bridge surfacing, bridge rehabilitation, seismic retrofits and highway safety improvements," he said.

The service plan also outlines strategies to improve road access for resource industries and rural residents. Plans call for spending over the next three years on interior and rural side roads and to repair damage done to highways by an extraordinary increase in heavy truck traffic carrying timber killed by mountain pine beetle to ports. The ministry will spend funds this year to fix roads in northeast B.C. that will help extend the winter drilling season for oil and gas exploration.

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The ministry also announced plans to improve highways in the Okanagan and to widen the highway between Hope and the Alberta border, which is described as an important trade corridor across southern B.C. It also plans on retrofitting bridges in the Chetwynd area to routinely handle 85 tonne loads and increasing load clearances at the West Pine Overpass. Passing lanes, four-laning, left turn slots, realignments and safety upgrades have also been planned.

"The next three years are a time of promise," Mr. Lekstrom stated in the service plan. The projects support the government-wide priorities of job creation and open government, he said.

However, a strategy that lacks transparency hurts the government's credibility and casts a shadow over ambitious plans to develop the province and trade with Asia.

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