McKenzie intersection No. 1 transportation priority for Islanders

The bottleneck at the McKenzie Avenue and Trans-Canada Highway intersection is the top concern cited so far by travellers on Vancouver Island, B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Tuesday as he invited the public to weigh in on the province’s 10-year transportation plan.

Stone called the intersection a prime candidate for a long-term fix. “There is a significant congestion challenge every single day for the most part that backs traffic up all the way up the Island.”

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He said his ministry is talking to the federal government, and while there has been no guarantee of funding, “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to bring the feds to the table on this project.”

The cost of a McKenzie overpass could be $80 million to $100 million, said Stone, noting the province has earmarked $3 billion for transportation projects over the next three years.

The public is being asked to outline transportation priorities; comments can be submitted via an online forum from Oct. 14 to Dec. 12. The government is set to roll out the transportation plan early next year.

Since September, parliamentary secretary Jordan Sturdy has met about 70 groups on Vancouver Island, including municipalities, businesses and First Nations. Stone said commuters from Victoria to Campbell River pointed to the McKenzie and Trans-Canada Highway intersection as “the single largest bottleneck on Vancouver Island.”

The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce said a McKenzie interchange is vital to the south Island’s economic strength. “No other intersection in the region has a bigger impact on economic activity,” chamber chairman Frank Bourree said Tuesday in a presentation about his group’s priorities going into the municipal election campaign.

He said surveys of chamber members show they want smoother transportation routes for goods and to spend more time with their families and less time in traffic.

The Vital Signs report released Monday by the Victoria Foundation identified the same spot as the most high-risk intersection for crashes on Vancouver Island.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said the number of crashes there underscores the urgency for improvements. “We really are 20 years late,” he said. “When the Island Highway was upgraded [20 years ago], it should have been part of the upgrade.”

Leonard said when he identified a McKenzie Avenue overpass as the No. 1 issue during a meeting with Sturdy, he was pleasantly surprised that most other Greater Victoria mayors agreed.

He stressed that public consultation — via townhall meetings, not just online — is key.

“The McTavish interchange is an example of the government moving ahead before the public was consulted,” Leonard said. “And many feel it was a solution that was imposed upon them.”

Transportation discussions could set off a tug-of-war between municipalities vying for funding, with Victoria beating the drum for an immediate upgrade to the Belleville ferry terminal.

Inner Harbour stakeholders have said a Belleville Street terminal upgrade is desperately needed to drive economic growth and attract more visitors.

Ryan Malane, vice-president of marketing for Black Ball Ferry Line, which operates the Coho ferry, said the Ministry of Transportation is aware the aging dock needs to be replaced and has assured the company that’s a priority. “I feel very confident they understand the importance of our link.”

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said he doesn’t want the Belleville terminal in the 10-year plan “because we can’t afford to have it buried for 10 years. It’s something that needs an investment now.”

NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena said any transportation plan that leaves out the “mess” of the B.C. Ferries system is short-sighted.

The public can give their input at http://engage.gov.bc.ca/transportationplan/ starting next Tuesday.

kderosa@timescolonist.com


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