Community leader fears fallout from new McKenzie interchange

Gorge Tillicum community association president Rob Wickson isn’t sure what the B.C. transportation minister will announce today, but he fears it will be negative for his neighbourhood and positive only for single-occupant car commuters from the West Shore.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone has slated a news conference for this morning about the $85-million McKenzie interchange at the Trans-Canada Highway, a project planned to tackle the Colwood Crawl, which essentially traps many Gorge, Tillicum and Burnside homeowners in their own driveways.

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Wickson assumes the minister will announce which of two interchange options gets the green light — a partial cloverleaf or a diamond-shaped configuration — that has the highway running under the interchange at McKenzie/Admirals.

Wickson, who has studied transportation issues for about 20 years and served several stints as president of Bike to Work Victoria, is not impressed with either option, saying the assertion that drivers will save 22 minutes per trip is “unbelievable.”

“This is our home, it’s not his,” Wickson said of Stone. “He better have a lot more respect for the place that we live than we’ve seen so far.… There’s lot of things we can do to that intersection before we spend $85 million building a bunch of cement.”

The Transportation Ministry did not respond to a request for comment or more specifics on today’s announcement.

Wickson said he’s gone to several Saanich committees without getting support for his neighbourhood, and set up a table at the last ministry open house outlining an alternate version, including a flyover onto McKenzie from the Trans-Canada, with left turns taking priority over inbound traffic.

“I’d say the community is supporting our approach to this, which is simply asking for better work to be done. We’re getting typical highway design, but this is not a typical highway. This is a place, a 150-year-old neighbourhood. They’re going to come in and change it forever and they’re doing it in six months.”

He called the walking and cycling components of the both options “a terrible disaster,” estimating the overpass for the Galloping Goose trail at double its current length.

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said the district is “working closely” with the ministry around Burnside Road and elsewhere the interchange impacts the community. “We’re not paying for the interchange, so our influence is more limited than it would have been if they had asked us to cough up several million dollars.”

He noted Wickson’s ideas have been shared with the community, community associations and stakeholders.

Wickson fears a “huge” negative impact on Cuthbert Holmes Park, with the partial cloverleaf design shaving off 1.4 hectares of land, although replaced with the same amount from provincial road right-of-ways. Wickson said that “highway scrub” will not be beneficial to wildlife and to the unique waterways of Saanich.

“We continually encroach on the valuable green space that we have,” he said. The Colquitz river takes waters from several lakes — Blenkinsop, Swan, Elk and Beaver — to Portage Inlet and then the ocean.

A simple oil spill from a highway accident in a tight cloverleaf design could have major repercussions on nearby natural systems, he said.

“The more we develop near these spaces, the more worried we become.”

He said his design would have similar results using less land with lower impacts on the neighbourhood, but acknowledged that the ministry has told him that his design won’t work.

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