Bridge across Saanich Inlet? Horgan floats idea after Malahat mayhem
After a fuel truck crash on Thursday shut down the main highway in and out of the Capital Region, effectively stranding motorists for hours, B.C.'s premier says he'll look into options for alternate routes – including a bridge across the Saanich Inlet.
Speaking at an event in Vancouver Friday, Horgan was asked about the crash between a fuel truck and transit van that cut off access to the Malahat Highway for more than 12 hours.
"I was born and raised on the island, I've represented the Malahat for the past almost decade-and-a-half and I know as well as anyone in British Columbia the challenges of that ribbon of highway," Horgan told reporters. "It is the only way in and out of the capital city of British Columbia and it's been a challenge for a long, long time."
Horgan referenced a similar incident that happened in April 2011, when a fuel truck crashed and spilled some of its load at the same corner of the Malahat in Goldstream Provincial Park.
"It was almost at the same turn, so clearly we have a road safety question that we need to deal with at that point," he said.
But Horgan said the broader question is how the province can make more transportation routes available in and out of the region.
During the highway closure Thursday, thousands of drivers had to take lengthy detours to get around it. Many voiced concern that every time there's a serious crash on the Malahat, it affects thousands of drivers because there are no viable alternate routes.
"All those people screaming that there has to be a better way are completely correct," said Chris Foord, vice-chair of the Capital Regional District's Traffic Safety Commission. "There has to be a better way. And if it's not going to take a fuel tanker lying on its side for 13 hours and a closure to do that, what are we waiting for? Is it going to be a three-week rockslide based on an earthquake that's going to close it for three weeks?"
He said the current path the Malahat takes through Goldstream Provincial Park is not in line with other major cities' transportation infrastructure, and while he favours a new route, a ferry across Saanich Inlet would still be better than the existing highway.
"I think it's totally unacceptable for a community of 400,000 people to have its main road into town as a 60-kilometre, single-lane winding road down to the base of a riverbed," he said. "Find me another community in North America that has that."
One of the detours motorists took Thursday included the small ferry that runs between Mill Bay and Brentwood Bay, which can only transport a maximum of 200 vehicles per day. Even though additional sailings were added due to the crash, many drivers were turned away because of the small capacity.
Another detour involved drivers taking the roughly 3.5-hour Pacific Marine Circle Route that runs between Duncan, Port Renfrew and Langford.
Others opted to take a ferry from Crofton to Vesuvius on Salt Spring Island, then take a ferry from Fulford Harbour to Swartz Bay on the Saanich Peninsula.
"I think all British Columbians understand that the capital city shouldn't be isolated if there's a traffic incident on the main road in and out of the city," Horgan said Friday. "That impacts families, that impacts the economy, and we want to make sure we're doing everything we can to reduce those circumstances in the future."
He brought up a 2007 study under the previous BC Liberal government that looked at the idea of building a bridge across the Saanich Inlet, either from Mill Bay to Deep Cove or from Bamberton to Highlands.
At the time, the costs associated with the bridge were pegged to be in the range of $700-million to $1.2-billion. The government instead decided to invest in Malahat Highway upgrades.
"I think that's certainly something we should dust off and have discussions with the Indigenous communities, have discussions with the travelling public, and see if that's a possibility," said Horgan.
Horgan said regardless of the solution, the government would strive to keep cost-effective options available.
The Ministry of Transportation said in a statement that there are already significant safety improvements underway on the Malahat, including widening shoulders on a five-kilometre stretch, adding median barriers and safer intersections, and improved overhead lighting.
It said that building a bridge across the inlet would present environmental and logistical challenges, and could negatively impact businesses on the Malahat that rely on tourist traffic.