Trans-Canada traffic free-flowing at McKenzie interchange (VIDEO)

Trans-Canada Highway traffic is flowing freely at the McKenzie interchange today and Langford Mayor Stew Young is calling it an “early Christmas present” for motorists.

“I’m glad that they did it before Christmas,” said Young. “That’s a great thing for the West Shore residents and everybody travelling from up-Island down.”

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The process of opening the highway lanes began about 8 p.m. Wednesday when single-lane traffic went into effect, followed by all traffic signals being turned off about 8:30 p.m. As preparations continued, traffic-control workers directed motorists. The highway was scheduled to be completely shut for about 30 minutes so that equipment could be shifted.

Free-flowing traffic was set to start at about 2 a.m. today, in plenty of time for the morning rush hour.

Work began on the now $96-million interchange project at the Trans-Canada and Admirals Road/McKenzie Avenue in September 2016. The price tag at the time was $85 million, but an $11-million cost overrun was announced in June due to design changes, weather delays and other problems.

The provincial contribution is $63.4 million and the federal share is $32.6 million.

Janelle Staite, deputy regional director for the Ministry of Transportation, said the goal was to open the highway lanes by the end of the year. “I’m looking at it 13 days early, so that’s wonderful.”

She said vehicles on the overpass between Admirals and McKenzie will continue to be controlled by traffic lights. Vehicles moved onto the overpass in October, allowing for the excavation of the Trans-Canada surface to its current level — seven metres lower than it was before.

“The configuration will look very much like the Helmcken interchange, with the traffic signals on either side that Helmcken traffic goes through.”

Staite said travellers going through the area will have a new perspective of the overpass.

“People who are staying on Highway 1 either southbound or northbound are actually going to be going down and underneath the structure,” she said. “Certainly for folks who are typically just travelling on Highway 1 and who would in the past be stopping at that traffic signal, they’re going to be unimpeded, no different than they would be going through Helmcken or Millstream.”

Staite said the project fits in with the ongoing four-laning and barrier work on the highway between the Leigh Road interchange and West Shore Parkway.

While the ministry said there will eventually be time savings for drivers of up to 20 minutes headed through the interchange area, the full effect won’t be seen until the project is done, which is expected to be next summer.

“There’s still quite a bit of work to be done out here,” Staite said. “Getting Highway 1 open to free-flow traffic is a big milestone, but there’s still eight or nine months ahead of us.”

Still to come are a loop-ramp exit off McKenzie, a northbound two-lane on-ramp from McKenzie and bus lanes.

The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2018. “It took them a couple years longer but at least we’re getting somewhere,” Young said.

Free-flowing McKenzie Interchange

In a video recorded by his passenger, Times Colonist columnist Jack Knox takes us through the underpass for the first time. "The cork is out of the bottle," he says as they drive through the underpass at a whopping 62 km/h an hour.

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