CRD rejects Malahat detour through water district lands

Capital Regional District directors Wednesday put the brakes on any possibility of new highway infrastructure being built in either Sooke Hills Wilderness Park or through water district lands.

However, they agreed that doesn’t preclude access being allowed for emergency vehicles on existing roads.

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Directors endorsed two resolutions — one from the CRD parks committee and the other from the Greater Victoria Water Supply Commission — opposing any new highway development for public use through CRD lands as possible emergency alternate routes during Malahat closures.

Langford Coun. Denise Blackwell said it was doubtful she would ever support a new road being built through the Sooke Hills but wanted any decision by the board deferred until they could see what recommendations for emergency measures came forward from the province.

“I’m very proud of the Sooke Hills. I look at it as my legacy from when I was chair of the [CRD] board. That’s when we spent this money to purchase these lands. I would never countenance a new road going through that area,” Blackwell said.

However, she said after communicating with the premier’s office she was assured they were not contemplating new infrastructure but rather wanted to look for safe alternatives for when there are issues on the highway.

CRD staff were first approached by the province last fall about the possibility of an alternate route.

CRD directors, in an in-camera meeting a couple of months ago, directed staff to form a working group with Ministry of Transportation staff to evaluate and report on options for an emergency bypass route for the Malahat section of the Trans-Canada Highway.

But the possibility of new roadway work in the CRD wilderness or water supply areas has ignited a firestorm of opposition from residents concerned about drinking water protection, biological diversity and impacts on outdoor recreation.

In recent weeks, dozens have addressed both committees urging the protection of the lands.

Several CRD directors said the risks of new road development are too great. Some argued there is nothing in the resolutions taking a stance against new highway infrastructure that would preclude emergency vehicles from using existing accesses such as the Niagara Main in the event the Malahat is blocked.

However, Niagara Main road (west of the E&N Rail line) through the Sooke Hills would require major improvements before it could be safely used as a detour route, said Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt, adding that just isn’t realistic.

“There’s an extremely steep grade. It extends about 1,000 feet of elevation over about one kilometre of distance. There is no way that would be a safe route to detour the volumes of traffic caused by collisions on the Malahat ... without major, major, major highway expansion,” Isitt said

A recommendation from Isitt and Salt Spring Island director Gary Holman for the province to undertake measures such as transit-only lanes, speed cameras, medians, and improved train and ferry services to address delays on the Malahat and Highway 14 was referred to the CRD’s transportation committee’s April meeting.

CRD directors also want chairman Colin Plant to meet with Premier John Horgan to outline directors’ concerns and stress the urgency of the situation for residents.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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