While traffic congestion is a regional problem, requiring a regional solution, the topic weighed heavily on the minds of many Victoria residents who demanded answers from their mayoral candidates Monday.
“I’m retired on a fixed income,” said one woman in the packed Little Fernwood Hall at the candidates’ panel discussion. “I’m really concerned about (light rail transit). I think it’s going to be really expensive … we’re a really small tax base in Victoria.”
It’s a concern shared by mayoral candidate Paul Brown.
“I like an LRT, but I don’t think it’s realistic at this time,” Brown said.
While acknowledging Greater Victoria needs a transportation strategy to deal with traffic from the West Shore, he asked: “Who’s problem is that? If we build the LRT, the major benefactors are not going to be those of us in Victoria.
“I think we should be at the table,” Brown continued. “But if we’re coming to the table to deal with your regional issue, in terms of transportation, we do expect you to come to the table and speak to our regional issue, and that would be regional policing and the fact that we’ve been carrying the ball in terms of regional homelessness.”
In response, incumbent mayor Dean Fortin questioned Brown’s logic.
“Let’s talk about some of the claims here: Western Communities, it’s their problem with congestion,” Fortin rebutted. “I remember talking to (former federal) minister (Gary) Lunn and he said ‘why don’t we just move all the head offices out of the downtown out to Langford and then we don’t have to put the light rail in.’”
“(That solution) doesn’t work for me,” said Fortin.
While Fortin acknowledged he needs to see an independent business case for light rail, he argued growing the existing bus service would cost $250 million.
“If we can get business as usual for $250 million… then why wouldn’t we invest that $250 million and get light rail?” he asked.
Mayoral candidate Steve Filipovic had a different take on the problem.
“The LRT seems to be designed to make Walmart the centre of our city, and I’m against that,” he said.
Instead, Filipovic pitched a unique solution to the ongoing challenges presented by the E&N Rail line.
He described a type of service where people could clip their vehicles together on the track in the West Shore, then unclip them once at their destination.
“A lot of people vote for train services in the hopes that other people will get on them and clear the roads so they can drive,” Filipovic said. His system would give people access to their vehicles during the day.
“Forming a loop with vehicles would give us a good test to see if ridership develops,” he said. “After we establish that a large ridership materializes, then we can invest again in the E&N railroad.”