Anyone who’s lived in the Cowichan Valley for any length of time knows that there has been a need for an alternative route to get to Victoria basically forever.
Currently, the only time-efficient way to get any volume of traffic from the Cowichan Valley to Victoria and surrounding south island communities is over the Malahat highway.
While the situation is better than it used to be because the province has widened the road in several places, there remain bottlenecks (notably at Goldstream Park) where, if there is a crash, traffic is completely blocked, sometimes for many hours. With hundreds of commuters relying on the road every day, not to mention tourists and occasional users, it’s a recurring significant headache.
Right now, alternate routes are slow and uncertain. The Pacific Marine Circle Route is, well, circuitous, taking drivers on a rural road from Sooke through Lake Cowichan. The roadway is largely unpaved, sparsely travelled, and not something recommended during bad weather. The Mill Bay-Brentwood Bay Ferry is slow and small, thus unable to move large traffic volumes. The E&N rail line, which is a straight shot from Victoria through Duncan and beyond, has been shut down for years due to the need for serious track upgrades.
So the status quo is undesirable.
All manner of fixes have been proposed by Vancouver Island residents over the years, including a bridge across the Saanich Inlet, a bigger, faster ferry, repairing the rail line, and twinning or building a new parallel highway.
Now, the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has announced a feasibility study for an emergency alternate route. It’s already causing some controversy, with folks riled up about the possibility of a route through the Capital Regional District watershed.
We favour options that offer regular alternatives, not just a crash bypass. Those will require long-term investments, possibly not just in roads. A mix of several of the alternatives listed above is likely the best option. It will be expensive. But what we’ve been doing up until now has been expensive in its own way. It will be worth it to have a permanent fix that connects Victoria area to the rest of the Island, that doesn’t just involve more widening of a mountain pass.
It’s time to be truly forward thinking. That won’t happen if we only look at emergency routes.