Another way around the Malahat? Local group says no way
If you’ve ever been stuck on the Malahat highway for hours, you may have been pleased to hear the provincial government is completing a study this spring into an emergency alternate route.
But the founder of local Facebook group Friends of the Sooke Hills Wilderness has a very different reaction, calling the idea of "punching a new highway" through a Capital Regional District-protected area "foolishness."
J. Ocean Dennie believes the province is looking at running a highway through the Sooke Hills Wilderness Regional Park via Goldstream Heights, not with a goal to alleviate traffic congestion during an accident, but instead to kick-start development in the area.
"All of these actions continue to encourage developer creep. If you punch one road only used during emergencies, then the next ask is can we open it up full time? And the next ask is can we punch a few more roads leading off of that," he said.
Dennie claims developers are hungry to get their hands on "the last incredible attractive wilderness we have here on south Vancouver Island," and the opening they’ve been looking for starts with the development of a new roadway.
The group is also opposed to an alternate route in and out of Greater Victoria on the basis of environmental impact. "Especially in this time of climate catastrophe and climate crisis, we can’t be chewing into more wilderness parkland."
CRD director and Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt has also stepped up to fight any proposal to "ram a highway through the wilderness."
Isitt and Dennie both point to existing alternate routes such as the Brentwood-Mill Bay ferry and the pacific Marine Circle Route that can be used by drivers in the event of a Malahat closure.
The BC Transportation Ministry released details of its feasibility study on a possible emergency route around the Malahat last week, as part of its new southern Vancouver Island transportation strategy.
The ministry says part of the plan will include exploring "potential emergency detour routes that could be activated in the event of a Malahat road closure," and that it's working with the Capital Regional District and other stakeholders to look at all possible detour options.
If a suitable emergency route is identified, engineering work could begin by summer.