A petition was started for creating alternative routes to the Malahat in case of an emergency. (File photo)

Should there be an alternate route to the Malahat highway?

Petition by Duncan man launched to find ways to keep traffic moving on the Malahat after a crash

A petition is calling for city and provincial officials to build an alternate route to the notorious Malahat Highway for motorists.

Duncan resident Paul Russell said he started the petition as a place where people can voice their frustrations and hopefully call for changes along the route that connects the upper and lower Island.

The petition has more than 3,700 signatures as of Saturday.

It’s not uncommon for motorists to find themselves stuck in stand-still traffic after a crash occurs along the busy corridor.

After Wednesday’s crash between a sewage truck and an SUV shut the highway down for seven hours in both directions, killing a father of a two-month-old baby, the discussion of alternate routes has circled back.

READ MORE: Malahat open in both directions after fatal sewage-truck crash

RELATED: Fatal Malahat crash causes significant traffic delays

Russell currently works in the movie industry in Vancouver and uses the Cowichan Valley as his home base, but prior to that he lived and worked on the Island and drove the Malahat every day for five years into Victoria for work.

About 23,000 people drove the Malahat every day in the first quarter of 2018, according to volume traffic data from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Russell said with the growth of the West Shore and the Island in general, this number is bound to increase.

“Business and economy are driven by Victoria, what does this look like in five to 10 years when the community expands…when there’s 50,000 people commuting on it every day,” he said.

Building another highway is a substantial financial commitment that he’s not sure would get off the ground.

Russel said he has no specific plans for the signatures yet. Right now he’s trying to accumulate a “number significant enough to present it in an unofficial capacity to elected members.”

This isn’t the first time public opinion on the busy highway has called on the province to act.

The ministry visited this issue in 2011 when a Victoria-bound fuel truck rolled and crashed into rock, closing the Malahat for nearly 24 hours and leaving hundreds of drivers stranded. It took nearly four hours to establish a detour route around the fuel truck.

Shortly after, a report was created that documented the ministry’s communication with the public during the closure. Premier John Horgan, who was the Juan de Fuca NDP MLA at the time, brought up alternate route possibilities – including rail – but none made the final draft.

READ MORE: Seven years later, what’s changed since the 2011 Malahat fuel truck crash and closure?

The Tunnel Hill area is where the majority of accidents occur that cause the Malahat to shut down, a stretch of highway with no reasonable detour routes. Russell said the Pacific Marine Circle Route is a scenic 3.5 hour drive, and he wouldn’t classify that as a convenient detour.

With the influx of forest fires in B.C., Russell wonders what would happen if a fire in the upper Island forced people to leave their homes, and a crash on the Malahat prevented drivers from getting out.

“I don’t want to sound dramatic, but what if,” he said. “It was never conceived to be a route to have this many people on it.”

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