Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin

Saanich and Victoria look to create new ‘midtown’ region on Douglas

At Wednesday's joint council meeting, B.C. Transit asks Saanich, Victoria to support funding to help make rapid transit decisions

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin sat at the elevated desk where his Saanich counterpart usually sits in municipal hall and pulled open the sliding drawers.

“I’m just checking. Seeing what he has in his drawers. I’m hoping for a bottle,” Fortin said, as the second joint council meeting between Saanich and Victoria got underway. (He had no luck in his search.)

Fourteen councillors and two mayors crammed into Saanich council chambers to discuss transportation options along Douglas Street, a major roadway that runs through both municipalities.

And while both councils have, in the past, asked B.C. Transit to pursue light-rail as a long-term solution for the traffic woes that plague the busy corridor, the message last Thursday was that short-term solutions are also needed.

“We need to plan for improving service now, but we also need to plan for rail in the long-term,” said Victoria Coun. Geoff Young. “Bringing in interim measures lets us postpone some of the tough decisions.”

Erinn Pinkerton, B.C. Transit’s director of corporate and strategic planning, updated the two councils on long-term planning, and the next steps needed to get there.

Local government needs to provide more guidance to B.C. Transit on the alignment of the future rapid transit project, she said. As well, Transit needs to get a better understanding of who will fund such an expensive project (estimated at $950 million to built light rail from downtown Victoria to the West Shore).

“The priority on interim measures is really important. If we’re going to look at interim measures, we better know what the long-term vision is going to be,” Pinkerton said. “Before we move forward and get into any more detailed design … we need to get the understanding of local affordability.”

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, who chaired the meeting, stressed that on a political level, it would behoove all members of the councils to push hard for interim measures to improve congestion on roadways in the region.

Based on existing timelines, there’s no expectation a rapid transit system will break-ground over the councils’ three-year term (ending in late 2014). However, residents are demanding fixes for their commute.

Pinkerton said short-term solutions that B.C. Transit is looking at include queue-jumper lanes for buses, and peak-hour or permanent bus-only lanes.

Saanich Coun. Vic Derman stressed the importance of tying land-use decisions to transportation decisions along a street identified as being a key piece of the regional puzzle. He focused on the opportunity to create a dense new community dubbed “Midtown” (between downtown and Uptown).

“I think what we have in front of us right now, as two municipalities, is an unbelievable opportunity to create a project that would be an incredible legacy to our citizens,” he said, calling it a “once-in-a-political-lifetime opportunity.”

Victoria Coun. Pam Madoff echoed Derman’s sentiments on land-use planning.

“At best, Transit is reacting to long-use planning. … What I was hoping to see, and others as well, was a true integration. In many jurisdictions you don’t start with the centre line, you start with the prop line and you work to the middle. For this to be successful, that has to happen,” she said.

A recommendation is expected to go before both councils later this month asking that they each support seeking funding to complete the Douglas Corridor Transit study, which will move forward the interim and long-term transportation plans.

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt said interim measures could be achieved tomorrow by city and municipal staff: “We’re talking painting lines (on the road). … Let’s save the contemplation of big financial models to (discussions on) how we’d implement rail.”

Isitt suggested focusing the next joint council meeting on creating a Midtown Master Plan, that brings together land-use and transportation planning.

“It’d be more than a win-win situation. It’s more like a dozen wins,” he said.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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