As of Wednesday morning, the Malahat highway between the Cowichan Valley and Victoria had been completely or partly shut down three times this week.
With about 22,000 vehicles a day depending on the mountain pass to either get to or get out of Victoria, and no convenient alternative routes available, there’s an obvious problem.
The Pacific Marine Circle Route can take traffic from Sooke to Lake Cowichan and back down to Highway 1, but it is long, rough and circuitous. If one wants to spend hours on a scenic trip through remote territory it can be great, but a commuter route it is not.
The ferry that runs from Mill Bay to Brentwood Bay is far too small to accommodate even a fraction of the daily Malahat traffic. And the ferry itself is old and relatively slow.
We don’t think the solution lies necessarily in any one thing.
The E&N rail corridor, now unused due to long-term neglect, then foot-dragging by senior governments, beams out like a giant neon sign every time the Malahat is closed. It will not be cheap to get the rail corridor back up and running, but it is well worth it as we look to the future of Vancouver Island as a whole, the need for green public transportation and a growing population base that lives — oh, look — right along the E&N corridor. Opponents argue that you will never get people out of their cars and onto a train in enough numbers to make it viable. We point to the highly successful commuter buses from Duncan to Victoria, about which the same people made the same argument. There’s something to “if you build it, they will come”.
The government should also seriously consider upgrading the Mill Bay-Brentwood Bay ferry to a bigger, faster boat that can take more traffic. They can then promote it not only to commuters, but to tourists.
Both of these ideas work with existing infrastructure. It would have to have money put into it, but whatever Malahat alternative is eventually decided on is not going to be cheap.