The highway connecting Langford to Sooke and Port Renfrew will get $10 million in immediate upgrades to ease congestion and reduce crashes that have killed or injured hundreds of people in the past decade, Premier John Horgan announced Friday.
Horgan told a news conference in Sooke that the upgrades mark the start of multiple improvements to the Highway 14 corridor that runs through his Langford-Juan de Fuca riding.
“Everyone who had to get here understands that we have a windy road and, on what I would characterize as just a normal day here in Sooke, it’s challenging enough,” he said.
“But on an evening in November, when the rain is coming down in sheets and the fog is coming off the basin, it is an extremely dangerous corridor and we need to take steps now to ensure we’re protecting lives.”
Horgan said the initial improvements include:
• a new bus pullout on both sides of the highway at West Shore Parkway and widened pullouts at Laidlaw Road and Harbourview Road.
• an eastbound “queue-jump” at Jacklin Road in Langford that will give buses priority to re-enter traffic and reduce delays for transit users.
• new safety signs installed by spring at Kangaroo Road, Gillespie Road, and Parkland Road.
• a pullout for slow moving vehicles east of Muir Creek, between Sooke and French Beach.
The Transportation Ministry expects to complete most of the work by spring or summer.
Construction of a new two-lane bridge on Gillespie Road at Roche Cove — an important alternate route to Highway 14 — will take longer, with work running from spring to next winter.
In addition, Horgan said the government is launching a new design and engineering project to look at ways to improve safety at the Sooke River Road intersection.
Future upgrades will look at realigning the highway, adding passing lanes and median dividers and widening shoulders for cyclists and transit.
Horgan cautioned, however, that making the road straighter could lead to people driving faster and potentially causing more crashes.
“So we want to make sure that we put in place traffic safety initiatives and safety improvements in the corridor that protect people but don’t give licence to pinheads to drive unsafely.”
Langford Mayor Stew Young praised Horgan for moving quickly to deal with the issue rather than commissioning yet another study.
“There’s probably more money spent on studies in the last 25 years than he actually announced today,” he said. “This is what I want to see. I don’t want to see any more bureaucracy. Politicians are elected to make decisions. He’s done that. That’s great. He’s done it fast.”
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait expressed relief that the upgrades are getting done after years of lobbying. She said one of the transit stops along the highway is nothing more than “a sign in a ditch” that puts people at risk.
“So to hear that the bus will pull off and that there’s a proper place to wait, I think will bring families whose kids use that bus a sense of comfort.”
Matt Barney, assistant chief of the Sooke Fire Rescue Service, said many of the accidents on the highway stem from people getting frustrated with delays and then driving too aggressively. He said something as simple as a bus pullout will make a difference.
“Right now, a lot of the time where the bus stops are, the bus has to stay on the main road,” he said. “People aren’t willing to wait, so they pull around and of course come into oncoming traffic.”
The Insurance Corp. of B.C. said there were 1,275 crashes on Sooke Road between Veterans Memorial Parkway in Colwood and Sooke River Road in Sooke from 2006 to 2015. Of those, 575 resulted in injury or fatality.
Sooke resident Drew Ripley died Dec. 29 in a crash on Sooke Road near Parkland Road, and 17-year-old Carter Navarrete was killed in a crash near the intersection of Sooke Road and Parkland Road in 2016.
Mike Hicks, Capital Regional District director for the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area, said he was particularly happy with the decision to build a two-lane bridge on Gillespie at Roche Cove. He said the current one-lane bridge poses a danger to drivers and can’t accommodate larger vehicles.
“Every time the highway has an accident, that’s the detour. And big semis and double-decker buses, they can’t come over it,” he said. “So [the new bridge] is great for British Columbia and it’s even greater for my constituents.”
— With files from Louise Dickson