Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor thanked the current federal government for $16 million towards a highway overpass estimated to cost at least $44 million at Keating Cross Road, but also reminded the next future federal government of its commitment.
“I would hope not,” said Windsor, when asked whether the outcome of the fall federal election might impact the overpass. “Honestly, this project has a 40-year-history. Its time is now. We have done the work as a community, and so have the provincial and the federal government. This project needs to go forward. I’m confident it will go forward.”
Windsor made these comments after John Wilkinson, federal minister of fisheries, oceans and Canadian Coast Guard, announced more than $16 million towards what experts call a “flyover” overpass from Pat Bay Highway northbound to Keating Cross Road westbound, with construction scheduled to start as early as 2021. This flyover — which may include other elements — means that northbound drivers turning left onto Keating will no longer have to turn across southbound traffic. The project will also include a realigned southbound on-ramp to Victoria.
The District of Central Saanich will contribute $2.5 million towards the project with the provincial share still awaiting approval from the provincial government.
Lisa Beare, provincial minister of tourism, arts and culture, said the provincial government will announce its share following completion of the engineering and design phase.
“Once that complete design phase is complete, we will know the true cost of the project,” she said, adding that a “good portion” of the design has already completed. “The project is estimated at $44-plus million, and once we get the full final design, we know the true cost.”
This statement, of course, means that both the final design and final cost remain unsettled. But Windsor appears unconcerned. “When you get into engineering, there is always that room for things that you didn’t anticipate,” he said. “We have seen this even on local projects in Central Saanich. You budget for a particular cost, but some conditions change, and we have to be aware of that. That will be fully fleshed out during the engineering process.” This said, he promised that Central Saanich staff will continue to work with their provincial and federal counterparts, as well as the community-at-large and neighbouring First Nations.
Monday’s announcement came after Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff had criticized the McKenzie Interchange Project specifically and large infrastructure projects aimed at automobiles generally as expensive and counter-productive in the fight against climate change.
Windsor said the overpass will stop northbound vehicles from idling, while waiting for southbound traffic to pass, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) responsible for climate change.
#CentralSaanich Mayor Ryan Windsor says new overpass has been a priority for decades that will improve traffic safety, stimulate economic activity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. pic.twitter.com/7UbnRFeSR3
— Saanich News (@saanichnews) August 26, 2019
The overpass will also improve traffic safety and economic development in the region, speakers said Monday, as Pat Bay Highway has had a deadly history in Central Saanich with a number of crashes and fatalities over the years.
ICBC recorded 15 crashes at intersection of Pat Bay Highway and Keating Cross Road, 15 crashes at Pat Bay Highway and Island View Road and 24 crashes at Pat Bay Highway and Mt. Newton Cross Road in 2017, the most recent data available.
“The access off the Pat Bay Highway leads to the airport, the ferry terminal, and other parts in the region,” he said. “This is a huge safety issue.”
Windsor also pointed out that the industrial area along Keating Cross Road accounts for 20 per cent of the industrial land in the region. He said earlier that Keating also leads to one of the primary tourism attractions in the region, Butchart Gardens, so the improvements will also benefit local tourism.
Windsor, who will take a leave of absence in the fall to campaign for the federal Liberals in the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, also faced the question of whether the election impacted the timing of the announcement.
“What I can say to that, is that back in 2007, this was identified in an Urban Systems report,” he said. “There was previous discussion and then it went quiet for a while. Back in 2014, it came to the fore with the [Union of British Columbia Municipalities] working on it.” Central Saanich and the Capital Regional District have also worked on this. “For me, this has been five years in the making, certainly as mayor, and my time on council before I became mayor,” he said, adding that work has picked up in the last two to three years.