Construction starts on $85-million McKenzie interchange

A bulldozer broke ground Thursday at the corner of Admirals Road and Trans-Canada Highway, marking the start of two years of construction on the $85-million McKenzie interchange project.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone was on site to announce the province’s construction plans for the project and unveil a compensation package for Saanich, where the interchange is located.

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“This is a critical project in so far as it represents the most significant bottleneck anywhere in B.C. outside the Lower Mainland,” Stone said.

Construction this fall will involve realigning and widening the Galloping Goose Trail with a new bridge over McKenzie Avenue. Material will be placed on the site to compress soft soils and a temporary pedestrian overpass will replace the existing one over the Trans-Canada Highway. A regional waterline running under an eastbound lane of the highway will also be moved.

Jacob Bros. Construction Inc. of Surrey has been awarded a $16.7-million contract for the first phase of the project.

In 2017, a second construction tender package will be issued to build the interchange and a new pedestrian and cycling overpass over the Trans-Canada Highway.

Increased delays are inevitable in the already-congested area. Stone said crews will do their best to minimize impact by mainly working outside of peak traffic periods.

Stone and Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell announced details of a compensation package for the municipality, which includes $450,000 in improvements to Cuthbert Holmes Park. Many Saanich residents expressed concern when the province selected a design that will carve 1.4 hectares from the 25.6-hectare park. One of the worries is the effect construction will have on an estuary that is a feeding area for migratory birds, which will lose its buffer zone.

Residents will be consulted about ways to lessen the damage and what they want to see around the interchange, like new plants along the edge of the park, Atwell said.

The mayor said he considered the province’s consultation process, which has included 40 meetings with stakeholders and three town halls, to be “fulsome.”

Others disagreed.

“The option with the lowest impact on the community was not the option chosen. ... It will be quite devastating for a lot of people,” said Katherine Brandt, director of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association.

Neighbours of the construction site said they are concerned about noise, traffic backups, and loss of Garry oak ecosystems. But some saw it as a necessary evil. “If you’re going to make something better, you’re going to have to make a few changes and there are going to be some upsets,” said Julie Bruce, who lives half a kilometre away.

Saanich’s compensation package includes:

• Equal replacement of the parkland that is removed from Cuthbert Holmes Park for road building.

• Contribution of $450,000 to implement the Cuthbert Holmes Management Plan, which includes items like invasive species removal, restoration, trail upgrades and signs.

• Commitment to minimize impact on the Colquitz River.

• A landscape plan to enhance flora and fauna;

• Mitigation package developed by an independent biologist.

• Commitment to maintain public accessibility.

• Commitment to replace the parking lot near Admirals Road and the trail along the northern section of the park.

Traffic and safety during construction:

• No lane closures between 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

• No closures on Sundays or statutory holidays.

• Night-time work may include 15 to 30 minute traffic stoppages.

• Safe route for pedestrians and cyclists will be marked and fenced off.

• No daytime Galloping Goose Trail closures.

• Advance notification of night-time lane closings and delays provided through traffic advisories, social media, changeable message signs and on the project’s website.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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