Three items from local media last month that explain a lot about how decisions are made with respect to transportation projects, certainly at the provincial level (but not exclusive to one party or level of government).

B.C. Liberals Cash In

Despite the assertion they’re not looking for anything specific for their donations, the top donors do actively lobby for specific goals.Large corporate donors to the B.C. Liberals have given big in the past decade, with the Top r50 handing out more than $30 million since 2005. …The New Car Dealers Association, which represents 375 auto dealerships in B.C., contributed $1.31 million, in the No. 3 spot. …Despite the assertion they are not looking for anything specific for their donations, the top corporate and union donors do actively lobby for specific goals, filings with the B.C. Lobbyist Registry show.
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The New Car Dealers group has lobbied on tail pipe emissions, tax policy and skills training for the auto industry. …The top corporate donors to the B.C. Liberals and the top union donors to the NDP say they are not looking for any specific return for their donations — no quid pro quo.
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“We do not expect any favours — well, other than a strong economy,” said Blair Qualey, president and CEO of the New Car Dealers Association.
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Have Donations To B.C. Liberals And NDP Crossed The Line?

HuffPost Canada, 04/11/2016 

Ten of the construction companies who do the heavy lifting for the P3 number crunchers donated $674,000, including Ledcor ($257,850), Kiewit ($105,975) [design-builder for the upgraded Sea-to-Sky Highway], PCL ($141,879) and Emil Anderson Construction ($52,910).

Coincidentally, Emil Anderson was awarded a $36-million contract by the B.C. government last month “for the second phase of six-laning on Highway 97 through Kelowna.” …

Since 2005, the B.C. Road Builders & Heavy Construction Association has donated $147,639 to the B.C. Liberals and $2,500 to the NDP

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Evergreen Line report shows work still ahead for Ministry of Finance

The Sun, 10 Feb 2017

… an audit released in 2013 by then-auditor general John Doyle, who looked at scoping and procurement decisions and the quality of information provided to government decision-makers during the Evergreen Line planning and approval process.

The Evergreen Line, an 11-kilometre-long SkyTrain extension that runs between Burnaby and Coquitlam, opened in December.

In his audit, Doyle said that the business cases developed by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, TransLink and Partnerships B.C. and reviewed by the Ministry of Finance omitted information needed to understand the costs, benefits and risks when comparing SkyTrain, light rail and bus rapid transit options; did not explain rider ship forecasts were based on assumptions that placed them at the upper end of the estimated range; and did not describe the risks from changes in complementary and competing transit services.

The business cases also omitted a framework for measuring performance, and none of the agencies could show documentary evidence that they had reviewed the material submitted to the Treasury Board.

“Given the magnitude of the project, we expected to find more evidence than we did of due diligence from government agencies,” said Bellringer. “We also expected decision makers to have received more information than they did from which to make their decisions.”

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Historically governments in B.C. have fed the Motordom machine, especially since the 1950s, with sizeable road-and-bridge projects “in the name of a strong economy.”  Donations from the beneficiaries aren’t so much to encourage that already-established commitment but to gain access to discuss the details.

The same is true to a lesser extent with respect to large-scale transit projects – but the tendency there is to choose the flashier if more expensive SkyTrain-type project, regardless of alternatives, as the auditor-general explained, that requires greater construction and engineering inputs at significantly greater costs.

The decisions are to a great extent pre-determined by these biases or interests, and then facts are assembled, if at all, to justify them after the fact.  

That’s why we get 10-lane Massey Bridges approved, almost out of the air prior to any credible business case or previous plan, and why SkyTrain will likely be the technology used for the Fraser Highway portion of the Surrey-Langley rapid-transit commitment.