Victoria shipyard boom has consequences

Employees spreading into surrounding neighbourhood for free parking

Catherine Nash

Catherine Nash

Catherine Nash is nine months pregnant and cares for two young daughters at home.

Her husband mostly works out of town. Like many mothers, she struggles to fit in play time with her kids, house chores and in-town errands each day.

Parking in front of her house was one convenience she used to take for granted. But ever since Victoria Shipyards ramped up production nearby, the congestion has created chaos for Nash and her neighbours.

“If you leave for 10 minutes, your parking is gone for the day,” said Nash, one of many upset residents who live on or around Lockley Road and Intervale Avenue in Esquimalt.

“There have been days when I’ve gotten groceries, and I have to come home, drop my kids off, and then go back to the car (a block away and up a steep hill) five or six times,” she said.

Nash’s husband, Jesse, gathered signatures from nearly all his neighbours in the 1200-block of Lockley Rd. to create resident-only parking and submitted it to the township in May.

On Oct. 1, Esquimalt councillors addressed the issue and asked staff for a report on the options available, including resident parking, permit parking and two-hour zones.

A decision from council is something Roy and Diana Couch have been anticipating for a long time.

“(Roy) almost got hit the other morning, because the cars are parked right at our driveway and you can’t see when you’re backing out,” Diana said.

Seaspan Marine Corp.-owned  Victoria Shipyards, the third-largest employer in Esquimalt, was recently awarded an $8-billion shipbuilding contract by the federal government.

It will create 6,000 jobs, and a press release stated 15 per cent of the work will be completed in Esquimalt, while the rest will take place at Seaspan’s Vancouver shipyards.

Construction is slated to begin later this year or in early 2013, and a $160-million upgrade has been taking place at both locations.

Seaspan did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Nearby residents said the company paved a parking lot near their offices on Admirals Road to help alleviate parking congestion earlier this year.

But with construction ramping up and more employees arriving, the parking squeeze is likely to get worse.

“When you combine (Department of National Defence) and dockyard, that’s approximately 6,000 people,” Mayor Barb Desjardins said. “And we know from years gone by, even prior to the Seaspan announcement, that two-thirds of those people come from West Shore and transportation is a real challenge.”

The cancellation of the navy’s popular Blue Boat commuter ferry service earlier this year, which brought DND employees to and from Colwood each day, has exacerbated the problem.

While the Baseline Connector ferry service still does the daily run, it costs $5 for each return trip and many workers choose to drive instead.

Desjardins said the only regional solution to congestion is the long-delayed Salish Express rail service between Victoria-Langford and Esquimalt-Cowichan.

She plans to meet with the region’s mayors this fall to discuss how to fund an implementation plan, estimated to cost $98,000.

The plan would be the first in-depth consultant’s report on the real cost and timeline to get rail service up and running.

In July, the Capital Regional District rejected an appeal from eight mayors, including Desjardins, to fund two-thirds of the plan. At the time, CRD staff said the funding fell outside its mandate.

“There’s no ability to say halfway through a calendar year to take on a new project,” said Andy Orr, CRD spokesman. “The quickest we could say is to budget for this in the next fiscal year.”

But Desjardins said action needs to be taken now to avoid a coming perfect storm of traffic congestion.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg. Wait until Craigflower Bridge and Johnson Street Bridge start to go under construction. How are we going to manage parking and problems, then? We have to get a handle on it regionally now,” she said.

dpalmer@vicnews.com