Saanich Peninsula residents now support upgrading of Pat Bay highway, but
who is going to pay for it?
Victoria Times Colonist
Pat Bay Highway at Beacon Avenue: Sidney council to discuss proposed changes
A dozen years ago the idea of turning the Pat Bay Highway into a freeway was
hotly opposed by Saanich Peninsula residents.
These days the mood has swung in reverse. As concerns mount over the safety
of the clogged highway, support is gathering for more interchanges to
replace the intersections controlled with lights or stop signs.
In fact, municipal councils now appear to back the elimination of traffic
lights along Highway 17 that former Social Credit transportation minister
Rita Johnston had planned but was forced to abandon due to the opposition in
"Views have changed considerably," said Wayne Hunter, Central Saanich mayor.
"All you have to do is go on that highway to see how dangerous it is."
Increased traffic from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, and development of
industrial parks in Central Saanich and Sidney, plus general population
growth in the capital region are overloading the highway at peak periods.
More than 50,000 vehicles use the highway daily.
The result, said Hunter, is a high rate of accidents at such intersections
as Keating Cross Road, which leads to Butchart Gardens, the tourist
attraction, and McTavish Road, the turnoff for Victoria's airport.
Johnston's expressway proposal was part of the original $1.3-billion Island
Highway project. But councils and groups like the Save Saanich Peninsula
Communities coalition lobbied against the freeway, fearing it would speed
development of the largely rural area.
In the end, the province built interchanges only in Saanich at McKenzie
Avenue and Quadra Street and at Wain and Lands End roads near the Swartz Bay
Now, the Transportation Ministry has proposed a vision that would see a
further $112-million spent on a 25-kilometre stretch of the highway north of
McKenzie. This would close access from 16 roads and build interchanges or
flyovers at Sayward Road, Keating Cross Road, Island View Road, Mount Newton
Cross Road, McTavish Road and Beacon Avenue.
The vision, a 28-page report prepared by consultants Earth Tech (Canada)
Inc., does not commit the province to any of the proposed work, said Neville
Hope, regional transportation ministry director for Vancouver Island.
"It was really developed as a discussion paper to go to municipalities ...
to get their comments," he said.
Hope said the ministry is prepared to deal with any safety issues "as needs
dictate" but that will not necessarily mean building new interchanges any
Provincial funding is tight, he said, and there is no money left from the
Island Highway project to do the work originally envisaged by Rita Johnston.
In fact, the Pat Bay vision counts heavily on municipalities paying a large
portion of the costs for any improvements, a cost that Hunter said his
municipality can't afford.
He said it's time the province turned its attention to the Saanich
Peninsula, which missed out on the Island Highway spending. But Central
Saanich council has sent a letter to the province saying it cannot support
the Highway Ministry's vision for the Pat Bay Highway unless the province
commits more money.
As it stands, Hunter said his community faces getting stuck with
multi-million dollar bills for service roads that will be needed if access
roads are closed to the highway. Local road improvement costs for the Island
View Road area alone are estimated by Earth Tech at $21 million (in 1998
dollars) if an interchange is built there.
Central Saanich has too small a tax base to afford such expenditures, Hunter
said. North Saanich and Saanich want to see more detail from the Highways
Ministry before deciding whether to support Central Saanich's position.
Sidney Mayor Don Amos said he personally supports the "vision," though his
council has yet to comment on it.
The issue will be discussed at today's council meeting.
Sidney is already involved with North Saanich, the airport and the Highways
Ministry in studies for interchanges at Beacon Avenue and McTavish, Amos
"We think planning is essential so that when funding becomes available,
improvements can be made."
Highways Minister Judith Reid met last fall with the four mayors from the
Saanich Peninsula. She was supportive of changes to the highway but said
that funding would have to come from a variety of sources, not just from her
Amos said he agrees with this concept. Sidney is looking at cost-sharing
with North Saanich, the airport, B.C. Ferries and the Highways Ministry for
the proposed Beacon Avenue interchange, he said.
What worries him is that provincial transportation funding will be
concentrated around the Lower Mainland and the route to Whistler to boost
Vancouver's bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Meanwhile, Clarence Bolt, one of the major opponents of the proposed freeway
1990, said he is not opposed to safety improvements.
"Our group was not opposed to changes," said Bolt, a former Central Saanich
councillor, "but there was concern that it (the original freeway proposal)
was overkill and too big."
Bolt said development pressures resulting from highway expansion are less of
an issue now and he believes that unsafe access roads to the highway should
But the "devil is in the details," he said, and any move toward a full-blown
freeway "I'd still have some trouble with that."
Transportation planners should also consider that any move to smooth the
traffic along the Pat Bay Highway will dump traffic into Victoria, Bolt
said, which will inevitably lead to snarls downtown.
Mike Davis, a planner with B.C. Transit, said one economical way to deal
with fender benders on the highway is to simply lower speed limits in
But Earth Tech suggests that failure to deal with some problem intersections
will limit business and housing development.
For example, the consultants say additional traffic cannot be safely
accommodated at the Sayward intersection. Consequently, the Highways
Ministry may be forced to limit development in Cordova Bay. Businesses such
as Shell Canada, which has a gas station there, are reluctant to make
decisions without knowing what the ministry's plans are.
As interim measures, Earth Tech recommends such steps as adjusting the
timing of traffic lights on the highway to ensure smoother traffic flow. It
even suggests the possibility of giving drivers of Pacific Coach Lines buses
going to and from the ferry terminal controllers to change the signal at
Further consultation is expected with municipalities through workshops and
joint planning studies.
© Copyright 2002 Victoria Times Colonist