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Duncan highway bypass idea ditched by North Cowichan

Mid-Island community erases option of easing traffic congestion because it doesn't like bypass options
North Cowichan has nixed recommendations on a highway bypass around the downtown core from its master transportation plan (File photo)

Don't expect the most frustrating section of an Island Highway drive to get any less congested soon.

The idea of constructing a highway bypass around Duncan to ease the traffic congestion on the Trans-Canada Highway too a hit earlier this month when North Cowichan council voted to remove options for a highway bypass from its new master transportation plan.

Mayor Rob Douglas, who put forward the motion to remove bypass options from the plan, acknowledged that traffic on the TCH in the downtown area has gotten worse in recent years, and he anticipates that’s going to continue.

But he said a highway bypass to deal with the issue sounds like a good idea in theory until people realize where the highway bypass would go.

Douglas said a study by Urban Systems a few years ago identified four possible routes, two on the west side of the TCH and two on the east side.

“One of the ones on the west side would be up to 22 kilometres long,” he said.“It was so long that the consultants said it would negate the desire of any driver to use the bypass because it would take longer to use the bypass than it would to get stuck in a traffic jam in our core area.”

Douglas said the shorter bypass options would destroy the scenic rural character of some of the most important rural roads in North Cowichan, and they would pass through undeveloped land belonging to Cowichan Tribes.

“They would also highlight significant environmental impacts including, I think, 11 crossings  across the Cowichan River and other water courses,” he said. “As well, the costs of a bypass were quite high even when that study was written, and I anticipate it would be significantly higher with today’s costs of construction.

"For all these reasons, what I would say is that we should look at the potential of acquiring space along the TCH to add additional lanes and that we look at continuing to implement the recommendations from some of the previous studies in regards to improving local road network connections.”

The new master transportation plan, which was researched and written by the WATT Consulting Group, recommended that North Cowichan continue to work with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the City of Duncan to assess the long-term feasibility of widening the TCH in the downtown core or identifying a highway bypass.

At a joint meeting of North Cowichan and Duncan councils held in 2021 to discuss future transportation plans for the region, North Cowichan’s director of engineering David Conway asked council members if they felt that it was time to revisit the idea of building a bypass to deal with the traffic bottlenecks that often occur on the TCH as vehicles transit through the community.

Conway said at the time that with the new Cowichan District Hospital soon to be constructed near the highway in the Bell McKinnon area, and the overall and continuing growth on southern Vancouver Island, the issue had arisen a number of times in the planning community.

But there was significant opposition to building a bypass at the time, and it continues to this day.

At the council meeting on June 4, Coun. Tek Manhas said he wouldn’t support Douglas’s motion to remove options for a highway bypass from the municipality’s new master transportation plan.

“I think we should leave all options on the table,” he said. “The new plan gives us choices and options, and this is another option so I think we should leave it in there for now.”

Coun. Bruce Findlay agreed with Manhas. He said the transportation plan will cover the next 60 to 100 years, and while the bypass options might not be palatable for some right now, they might be in the next 10 to 15 years.

“For me, the idea of closing off accesses along the TCH and putting in some sort of access road takes away so much property from property owners, so I’m 100 per cent against taking these [bypass] options out,” Findlay said.

Coun. Chris Istace said he believes that building a bypass is something the province would initiate, regardless of whether North Cowichan had it in its transportation plan or not.

“If the province sees fit to create a bypass, I think they’re just going to do it,” he said.

The motion to take the bypass options out the plan passed, with support from Douglas, Istace, Coun. Debra Toporowski, and Coun. Christopher Justice.

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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