Victoria prepares for Government St. overhaul as part of $15M water-main project

An above-ground overhaul of Government Street is on the horizon to coincide with a major upgrade to below-ground water services along the downtown ­Victoria thoroughfare.

“The city is going to be doing a massive water-main replacement as part of our climate-adaptation and seismic-resiliency planning,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

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Federal funding of $15 million has been secured, she said, with work to be done from Wharf Street/Humboldt Street to ­Pandora Avenue in 2023-24.

“The idea is to be prepared once that work is finished for basically a refurbishment of Government Street based on the direction in council’s strategic plan, which is to turn Government into a pedestrian-priority zone,” Helps said.

“There’s a request for proposal out now to hire a consultant to work with the community, the business owners, everyone who uses Government Street.

“It’s a bunch of planning work now so that we’re organized for the future.”

Helps said the final report from the consultant will come to council in January 2022.

“That will set council up well for 2023 budget deliberations, which is when these budgetary expenditures for whatever the changes are going to be on ­Government Street will take place,” she said.

Helps said she expects Government Street this summer to look a lot like it did in 2020, with space for pedestrians and a number of added patios through the city’s Build Back Victoria program.

The province has extended approval for expanded seating for pubs and restaurants until Oct. 31, 2021.

“There are a lot of lessons learned from last summer,” she said. “We want to understand what the street should look like for the future.”

Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, said he is happy to see the city is co-ordinating civic projects to minimize disruption.

“What we’ve always said at the DVBA with respect to Government Street is that any changes to the configuration of traffic flow really should work in concert with what business needs are there,” he said. “There are lots of issues that are impacted, deliveries for instance.

“We’re not for or against the idea of expanding the pedestrian space in and of itself, but if it’s done so because people think it’s a really cool idea, but it’s not taking into account the needs of the types of businesses there then we have some concerns.”

Discussions will consider more than pedestrian use, Helps said.

“It’s way bigger than that,” she said.

Things such as street configuration, surface materials, street furniture, public art, trees and other plantings will all be part of the package, Helps said.

“Government is one of Victoria’s signature streets, if not its signature street, and so I think it’ll be great to see what the community and the consultant come up with over the next few months.”

Helps compared the coming together of the Government Street water-main project and streetscape change to the building of the city’s bike lanes. “The bike network basically follows the installation of underground networks.”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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