As Langford opens its new Leigh Road interchange next month, some say the project — long known as “Bridge to Nowhere” — will still get you nowhere, only just a little faster.
Conceived during Langford’s boom years, the $25-million overpass has been a visible reminder of the economic downturn that ushered in this decade.
Primarily a north-south connector, it was designed to provide a back door to the Bear Mountain Resort and housing development, easing congestion on the over-taxed Millstream Road while improving traffic flow onto the Trans-Canada Highway from Langford for those headed up-Island.
But the Bear Mountain Parkway, which connects Bear Mountain to the interchange, isn’t anywhere near complete. So when the interchange opens June 15, motorists will be able to drive only as far north as McCallum Road — 2.2 kilometres away from the top of the mountain — before being looped back on McCallum toward Victoria.
And McCallum isn’t finished either.
Michelle Mahovlich, Langford’s director of engineering, said completion of the project — as foreseen in the city’s Transportation Master Plan — would involve connecting the portion of McCallum Road that currently runs past Costco to the new section built for the interchange.
In the meantime, access to the interchange from the Millstream Road area will come via Setchfield Avenue and Florence Lake Road.
Just when the Bear Mountain Parkway will be completed is anyone’s guess. It’s development-dependent — that is, it will be built solely by private interests when the real estate market picks up again. That could be a while, considering Bear Mountain Land Holdings has put the resort on the market.
Bear Mountain Land Holdings has been operating the resort, golf courses and real estate since November 2010 on behalf of owner HSBC Bank Canada.
“It’s still a Bridge to Nowhere,” said Zoe Blunt, a director with Forest Action Network. Her history with the interchange dates back to 2007, when she was one of several activists who took to the trees at the foot of Leigh Road in an attempt to block construction of the interchange.
“All you can do [using the interchange] is make a little loop. The purpose of the interchange was to access Bear Mountain and the South Skirt Mountain development, so that would require paving that road from the bridge all the way up to the top of the mountain,” Blunt said.
Langford Mayor Stew Young said the timing for opening the new interchange couldn’t be better.
“As soon we open that up on June 15, there will be an immediate decrease on traffic at Millstream,” which becomes Veterans Memorial Parkway on the south side of the Trans-Canada Highway, he said.
Young says the interchange will help ease congestion on Millstream and Veterans Memorial Parkway, Goldstream Avenue and Spencer Road, which now experience traffic backups as drivers heading up-Island gain access to the highway via Spencer or Millstream/Veterans Memorial.
“You wait almost 20 minutes or half an hour now to get out of Langford onto the highway to go up-Island,” Young said. “Those are the complaints I’m getting now. You can’t actually get to your house on Goldstream Avenue because you’re actually behind the traffic turning right onto Spencer” and then the highway.
Young admitted that seven or eight years ago, when the interchange was designed, one of the main ideas was to facilitate new development on Bear Mountain. The interchange will now be ready for future development, he said.
“Whoever buys it, before they start to develop, has to finish the road off. So we’re ready to go whenever they’re ready to go. Whenever the market dictates,” Young said.
The opening of the new interchange will bring little joy to residents in the Spencer Road area used to walking across the highway to Spencer Middle School or downtown Langford. The Spencer Road intersection will be closed to both vehicles and pedestrians.
The original idea included building a $2-million pedestrian overpass at Spencer, but Young said that’s a provincial responsibility and won’t be built until the province comes up with the cash.
Until the overpass is built, pedestrians and cyclists will have to cross the highway at either Millstream or Leigh.
“The province will have to pay 100 per cent for a pedestrian overpass. We’ve let them know that. It should have been built now. The province should have put the money in to build that pedestrian overpass. It’s their responsibility. It’s their highway,” Young said.
While Langford has borrowed money to help pay for it, the interchange is being paid for primarily by five private developers on Bear Mountain and South Skirt Mountain.
To date, they’ve been paying interest on the loan and will start paying back the principal as development occurs. The province kicked in $4 million.
Young said having the developers contribute represents a “windfall” for the province, so it should be more than happy to pay for a pedestrian overpass.
“That’s a minor cost compared to the money they saved by getting the development community in Langford to pay for the interchange,” he said.
In light of the closing of the Spencer intersection, School District 62 will allow students who did not buy a bus pass for this school year to ride the bus for free the last two weeks of school.
Through all this, Blunt said, the underlying issues of indigenous heritage sites and graves have not been addressed. The interchange’s only purpose is to service urban sprawl, she said.
“This is the worst kind of urban sprawl. There are no services out there. There aren’t even any buses. Nothing is within walking distance. They don’t have a grocery store. They don’t have a school and it’s right up against Goldstream Park. There’s absolutely no reason for it.”