1. Good news: Latest report (Friday, 2 p.m.) from the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure is that "we are in the home stretch of the Sooke River Rd intersection project. The community of Sooke's continued patience is very much appreciated while we complete the project, and it is understood that patience has worn thin on these recent delays ... Yesterday's paving impacts were not acceptable under our contract terms, and today's paving is being watched like a hawk. Paving on the highway will stop by 3 p.m. today, when (the work crew) will shift over to some minor touch-up work on Edward Milne off the highway ... a minor amount of paving will be completed on Monday."
(The installation of the stoplight itself and the rush-hour traffic impacts it will generate is still ahead of us. As said before, a roundabout at this intersection would have been ideal, and was, in fact, called for in our 2010 Transportation Master Plan. I was told at MOTI's Open House last summer the budget could only handle a signal light, not the cost of expropriating enough land for what would have had to be a two-lane Sooke Rd. roundabout.)
Looking back over the last three months, MOTI notes: "This Sooke River Rd project has been almost entirely delivered during the day and through the first 3 months of work, delays midday were held below 10min, with free flowing rush hours." (Night work is a considerably more expensive option for contractees - in this case Jacob Brothers Construction of Surrey, BC -- if they anticipate creating traffic delays above those 10 minutes. Yet apart from a handful of "stuff happened" SNAFUs, Jacob Bros. has reportedly done well.)
Yes, there has been understandable griping from drivers experiencing (on a happily few number of occasions) lengthy hold-ups. (I'm not a commuter, but the handful of five-or-ten minute roadwork delays I've faced over my 15 years in Sooke have made me edgy and impatient -- I still aspire to master a zen attitude and learn to relax when the blessed normals around here undergo a minor interruption in service).
Yet the happy news is that many locals gracefully have recognized that short-term pain leads to lasting gains in traffic flow and efficiency. In fact, a Sooke River Road pal of mine was so grateful for the way work crews waved him onto Sooke Rd. over the last number of weeks that he splurged on coffeeshop cash cards and gifted them to the crew with much gratitude.
2. You may have read in the Sooke News Mirror this week that negotiations are underway between the BC Ministry of Transportation and landowners in the 17 Mile House area of North Sooke. To quote the story's misleading opening paragraph, "The process of creating a four-lane highway between Langford and Sooke appears to be moving forward ..."
The article's points about negotiations and expropriation are true, or so I understand. But the contention that this is a prelude to the full meal #14 four-lane deal is inaccurate.
As identified in the Highway 14 Corridor Improvements Study released by MOTI early last summer (see the report's third last page, which includes a tentative routing), this is a short realignment of the road from Connie, routing behind the 17 Mile House and going potentially as far as Manzer or Glinz Lake Road in phase one. This plan addresses the potentially dangerous bottleneck at Sooke Rd. and Gillespie. It will better allow traffic to move on accident days. And the short four-lane will provide easier pullover opportunities for logging trucks and Sunday drivers, enabling the rest of us to establish a safe, steady 70 kmph (optimal, I'll say again) pace along Sooke Rd.
Council was not officially informed of this plan by MOTI nor is it cited among the actions in the current $10 million improvement program. Personally, I heard about it from Col. Boucher of the North Sooke Residents Association at the Parks & Trails Masterplan Open House in late January. He's one of the affected landowners quoted in the SNM story. He and his association colleagues have visited council chambers twice in the last year to insist that MOTI's plans align with the District's Transportation Master Plan.
In reading the Corridor Improvements Study, the SNM reporter may or may not have seen its second last page, which is titled "Why not build a new highway?" (i.e., a four lane from Langford to Sooke). Here he'd have read MOTI's rationale for why it likely won't be happening in any of our lifetimes, and i quote in full:
"The mountainous terrain is a major obstacle in designing and constructing an entirely new highway between Langford and Sooke. Challenges include:
~ Need to route the highway around the higher terrain/mountain peaks
~ Much steeper grades affecting truck traffic
~ Increased snowfall, as some of the route would be above a 200m elevation
~ Need for multiple bridges to span major creeks
~ Environmental impacts
~ Need to pass through one or more regional parks
~ Construction would require major rock cuts and retaining walls
~ High cost ($20-50M per kilometre)
Okay, let's figure out that pricetag: The distance from the end of the Sookahalla to Cooper's Cove is approx. 12km (if indeed I have worked things out correctly just now with the Google map calculator). The anticipated project cost of a four-lane Hwy #14 along that stretch, therefore, is $240-$600m.
For perspective, the Mackenzie overpass was budgeted at $85m when it was announced in 2016. MOTI also has a half-dozen other major infrastructure projects in BC to fund, including no end of minor ones (but major to the communities involved, of course) ~ all listed in full on the ProjectsBC website. (And here's MOTI's Service Plan from now through 2022.)
Reality check: it's unrealistic if not absurd to think that a community of our size would warrant these kind of expenditures. I could be totally wrong and Minister Trevena's South Vancouver Island Transportation Strategy will have some huge surprises for us when it's released later this year, but somehow I think we're an afterthought in MOTI's bigger Malahat-centric plan. (Short and long-term mass transit solutions, please and thanks, are desperately needed.) Besides which, the Save The Sooke Hills contingent backed by the Capital Regional District's Board of Directors would reject incursions into the watershed.
Much wiser to predict that MOTI will continue to make relatively minor tweaks and adjustments as promised along the lines of what we've seen to date: a new Roche Cove bridge, the pullover at Sombrio and dramatically improved road markings and lines (now being repainted twice annually). (Personally, I remain curious about the potential of Butler Road as an emergency access route to Duncan.)
Last summer's Hwy #14 Engagement Summary Report (screenshot below) identifies the top three future priorities as passing lanes, wider shoulders and slow vehicle pullovers. This current realignment, if indeed it goes ahead, will address all three priorities, albeit at a cost to be paid in terms of peace and privacy for the effected, hopefully well recompensed homeowners in North Sooke. Certainly not the first time BC's Expropriation Act has been exercised on behalf of what mandarins and consultants have deemed to be the public good.
The inevitable conclusion is that we must again recognize that Hwy #14 is a limit to growth ~ which we need to manage and control without letting it spiral further out of control.
Bonus: Also worth noting that the District's Paul Butterfield has been working smartly and stategically to expand EV charging stations in town. Level 2 chargers will be installed on Eustace near the Legion, the Municipal Hall, Ed Macgregor Park and elsewhere. And recently he filed a $200k grant application to the FCM's Green Municipal Fund for more. Skyline Retail REIT will install four chargers as part of the Tim Hortons expansion.