Victoria mixed on potential locations of Malahat emergency route

Province says they’ll explore all options from Sooke to Duncan

One day after another serious crash that closed a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway just north of Victoria, the province of B.C. announced plans to explore an emergency detour route over the Malahat between the West Shore communities and Duncan.

A “comprehensive and co-ordinated look into improving traffic flow” is expected to address congestion in one of B.C.’s fastest growing regions, and it was met with near-universal agreement from politicians in Victoria who say all options need to be looked at and considered.

READ MORE: Multi-vehicle crash closes Trans-Canada Highway in Canada

READ MORE: Province addressing need for emergency alternative to the Malahat

“We need to understand where the congestion is and where the needs are, where the pressure points are,” said MLA Mitzi Dean (Esquimalt-Metchosin), who spoke with media assembled at the B.C. legislature Wednesday afternoon.

“And then we need to actually have a look at what would be the best solution and then do a cost benefit analysis.”

The province said the area of focus will be existing and future multi-modal infrastructure projects going as far north as Duncan and as far west as Sooke. It will look at current transportation demands and develop a roadmap for future investments across all modes of travel.

“Transportation has been a consistent problem for the region and this process is urgent and long overdue,” said Adam Olsen, B.C. Green Party spokesperson for transportation and infrastructure.

“Effective transportation not only reduces congestion and greenhouse gases – it makes life more affordable, helps local businesses succeed, and allows British Columbians to spend more time with their families. On the southern Vancouver Island it is essential that this process is guided by clear leadership and long-term thinking to address the unique challenges our communities face.”

That sentiment was echoed by Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau, who represents the Cowichan Valley and often travels over the Malahat to her job in Victoria.

“Vancouver Island is heavily dependent on the Malahat highway. On occasions when that route is closed thousands are cut off from essential services such as medical care. This major concern must be met with swift and thoughtful action.”

The question of rail use also came up as the E&N rail corridor remains unused, despite advocate groups and casual motorists calling for restoration as a secondary option to delays or travel.

“I know from living in the community and talking to people in the community, that people are really frustrated with seeing the corridor being left idle, while people are sitting in congestion,” Dean said.

One of the things she continues to hear, is how people want to get the best use out of the E&N rail corridor.

“And if we can use the corridor to get people moving, then let’s look at that option.”

READ MORE: Alternate route for Malahat shouldn’t go through Sooke watershed

READ MORE: Greater Victoria mayors united over transportation

READ MORE: Island Corridor Foundation optimistic about restoring rail service

However, not everyone is in agreement.

“To my understanding, they are looking for a bypass route through the CRD watershed where the Sooke Reservoir is located, and that’s a big concern to me,” said Mike Hicks, Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director. “That’s where the drinking water for the CRD, including Sooke, is located.”

Hicks said water in the reservoir is “absolutely pristine,” and to protect the area and the water supply, the area is subject to restricted access.

“They don’t let anyone into the watershed, except maybe some First Nations people for hunting purposes, so opening it up and maybe having trucks rolling through there is a really big concern. Anything getting into that water is a big concern.”

The Sooke Water Supply Area is located northwest of Victoria in the Sooke Hills and supplies water to more than 35,000 people in Greater Victoria. The area is owned by the Capital Regional District.

The area has been in active use for more than 100 years and supplies nearly all the water consumed by CRD residents.

Chris Foord, the vice chair of the CRD Traffic Safety Commission, expressed a radically different position.

“Given that we dumped 40,000 litres of diesel fuel into the river several years ago and killed a bunch of salmon I seriously doubt that we could do worse by putting an emergency bypass road farther upstream from Goldstream River,” said Foord in an email to the Sooke News Mirror.

“My personal view, as a transportation planner, is that we need an immediate bypass that can be opened up if the Malahat was to be closed for more than an hour.”

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