Realignment of Highway 14 to Sooke is underway, with piles of freshly cut logs lining the winding road and heavy machinery ripping into rock faces to lay the groundwork for a “much safer” 1.5-kilometre, four-lane stretch.
In the middle of all the construction between Connie and Glinz Lake Roads lies the historic 17 Mile House, named for its distance to Victoria City Hall and known since its inception in 1894 as a stage coach stop, hotel for sportsmen and railway workers and — to this day — its classic pub.
Highway 14 traffic has always whizzed by the southern wall of the pub — within a few metres — but all that is going to change.
The new highway will take an arc north of the 17 Mile for a four-lane stretch to Glinz Lake Road, removing dangerous curves and the difficult turn onto Gillespie Road. The improvements are also expected to trim commute times for Sooke’s growing population.
The current route past the pub will be repurposed as an extension to Connie Road. A westbound exit off the new highway will loop northeast of the 17 Mile around a pond and continue through an underpass beneath the new highway to provide a new route to Gillespie Road, taking vehicles through to Roche Cove and on to Metchosin and East Sooke.
For the Wilson family, who own 17 Mile House, a liquor store and AdrenaLine Zipline Adventure Tours as well as about 100 acres of surrounding property, the road alignment brings disruptions, but also opportunities.
“In the end, the new road is needed, the safety is needed. I’ve been peeling people out of accidents my whole life and this means it will be much safer for the people of Sooke,” said Jeremy Wilson, a firefighter and partner in AdrenaLine Zip Tours, which operates out of 17 Mile House.
The new stretch of highway eliminates three zip lines and has forced Wilson to extend the course further into the Sooke Hills on the family’s property. Construction of those new lines is underway, with a possible opening date for late March.
In all, the Wilson family lost about seven acres to the new highway’s roadbeds and a 50-car park-and-ride transit facility northeast of the pub.
Sooke council unanimously approved this month the Wilson family’s application to rezone 3.7 acres of rural land to commercial and a variance for a reduced setback on a pond that will allow for commercial expansion once the highway alignment is complete in late 2022.
The Wilsons said there is an opportunity to build a commercial node on two lots north of 17 Mile House, where it also operates a liquor store.
The small commercial development could include a clubhouse for the zipline course as well as other small businesses — possibly a convenience store — that would support the park and ride and upgraded transit area.
“The land has been in my family since the 1940s and we’ve always been concerned about the safety of the highway,” said Wilson. “So these are good changes.”
But not everyone is happy.
Kerry Chen received a notice of land expropriation from the province this month. He is losing about one acre of land for a two-lane road that will connect Manzer Road with Gillespie Road. Excavators moved onto the property this week.
He’s receiving about $75,000 for the parcel, but isn’t happy that the new road will cut his 10.3 acre property in two, and leave about 3.5 acres “undevelopable.”
“The road will destroy untouched old-growth forest and a rare and unique ecosystem with a dual canyon and two streams,” he said.
Chen said Veitch Creek spills down seven waterfalls into potholes on the site, and the new highway will spoil the overall beauty of the property that his father — one of the first Chinese real estate agents in Victoria — acquired in 1966 for future generations of his family.
“Its a shame that the government is trying to control everyone’s lives [and] takes people’s properties without their desire and not compensating them fairly,” said Chen
Other improvements on Highway 14, between Connie and Glinz Lake roads, will include a new pedestrian underpass east of the new cloverleaf intersection at Glinz Lake Road and Polymede Place.
There will also be a new road between Manzer and Gillespie roads and between Connie and Gillespie road for a low-speed connection between local side roads for residents.
A median barrier is being installed along the highway between Manzer Road and the Neil Creek Bridge on Connie Road.
The Highway 14 improvement project, which includes 11 kilometres of paving and road-shoulder construction between Otter Point Road and Woodhaven Road, will cost $85.7 million, with the federal government contributing up to $30.2 million the province the remaining $55.5 million.
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait called the upgrades essential in improving safety for everyone, including pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and motorists.