Every day, more than 2,000 people travel from Saanich to work in Esquimalt. And as the capital region continues to grow, Esquimalt Coun. Susan Low knows that number will only increase.
With 58 per cent of transportation movements in the region crossing municipal boundaries, Low believes it’s in the best interest that someone from the region should be making good decisions on how to move everybody around.
On Monday night, Esquimalt council was presented with a proposal from the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) board of directors for the establishment of a regional transportation service — something Low is encouraged to see.
“I see how much data gathering and analysis the CRD does on transportation issues,” she said. “I am not so much concerned with the need to have every small municipality’s voice here because we see how much things move around.”
According to CRD board director Ben Isitt, who presented the proposal to council, officials are hearing increased concerns about traffic delays and congestion, sparking a desire for a more effective, sustainable transportation system.
A regional transportation service could provide the CRD the ability to identify regional transportation priorities, integrate regional trails more closely with municipal walking and cycling infrastructure, and advocate for senior government funding with one united regional voice.
Initially, the service will consolidate existing CRD transportation functions with no new funding required. The second phase would look at an expansion of service, such as major road infrastructure or light rail transit, which would be done through board direction.
In the long term, funding sources could include grants, direct CRD requisitions and other forms of taxation or municipal pooling of resources. Municipalities would ultimately have the final say on what happens to their roads regardless of the board’s direction.
“In the City of Victoria, we have voted in favour of supporting this service, which could over time mean a tax impact on our residents,” said Isitt, adding a regional transportation service has been talked about for years so it’s time to take action.
“I personally see a real benefit in having a proper regional service, which over time, could assume a greater role in transportation operations and really give us the high quality transportation infrastructure we need to move into the 21st century and beyond.”
The CRD does not currently have a transportation service. Putting one in place requires the approval of the participating area, which is why the CRD has been canvassing municipalities for support.
Last month, both Colwood and Langford councils rejected the plan, noting several changes need to be made to the current proposal before they get on board. The overall cost and lack of strength of Colwood’s voice at the table were two chief concerns. A Langford councillor also noted CRD committees have a history of inefficiencies, pointing to how long it’s taken to reach an agreement on sewage treatment.
Esquimalt Coun. Lynda Hundleby understands the need and advantage for regional decision making around transportation, but said some things cause her significant concern, such as the absence of B.C. Transit from the equation and the cost to municipalities.
“It might be neutral to start off with, perhaps a modest increase over time, but I’m really not sure about that. We’re one vote at the table and I’ve seen how one vote at the table has skewed a lot of things going on at the CRD board so I’m not trusting,” said Hundelby, who was also concerned about the independence of small municipalities. “We’ve lost our independence on a few other things already. What about this?”
Feedback collected from the municipalities will be presented to the CRD board at its Dec. 14 meeting.
Board chair Barb Desjardins said the proposal is far from dead with plenty of discussions to be had about the concerns of municipalities and what the options are for addressing those concerns.