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Malahat closure reason to reopen road discussions: Greater Victoria transportation expert

Chris Foord compares south Island situation to more aggressive Scandinavian approaches to problem
Emergency crews begin work on a flood-damaged single-lane section of the Malahat Drive on Highway 1. (BC Transportation)

This week’s interruptions on the Malahat absolutely warrants reopening the discussion around building a more reliable highway through the mountain pass, says CRD traffic commission board member Chris Foord.

Overall, the Malahat Drive section of the Trans Canada Highway carries as many as 25,000 vehicles per day. Heavy flooding Monday (Nov. 15) washed out a single-lane section on the south end of the pass and led to a full closure of the roadway that night. With rain easing off overnight and into Tuesday, crews reopened the section to single-lane alternating traffic north and southbound.

BC Ferries stepped in to provide emergency overnight sailings between Mill Bay and Brentwood Bay to transport stranded travellers early Tuesday, and will do the same overnight Wednesday.

Foord, a transportation planner for decades prior to his appointment to the traffic commission, said the dire situation came as no surprise for “the most substandard section of the Trans Canada Highway in the province.” Since 1990, he’s been vocal about the construction of a larger highway from Langford to the southern end of Nanaimo’s parkway.

“We are the only community (in B.C.) of 400,000-plus with a single-lane highway as the only way out,” Foord said, referring to the start of Malahat Drive in Goldstream Provincial Park, just north of West Shore Parkway. “I always figured it was going to take a bit of a rockslide or a minor earthquake to close the Malahat for a month, so we could decide how important it is to have a viable link.”

To mitigate against the closure prompted by the recent flooding, Foord said emergency bypass routes would work best in the short term while a new highway corridor would work best in the long term.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: Malahat reopening to alternating traffic following safety assessment

READ ALSO: Malahat to close overnight for seven days, BC Ferries planning to step in

Expanding the single-lane section of the Malahat at the south end, however, would require construction into the watershed east of the existing highway. The prospect was debated and shut down by the regional water supply commission in 2019, after which point CRD director Rebecca Mersereau wrote to the province stating the commission’s opposition to any such development.

Foord said watersheds, which comprise most of Canada, shouldn’t keep the province from developing a more reliable route. “If we were in Denmark, they would just bore a tunnel through it and think nothing of it. If (it were) Norway, there would have been a high-level bridge across and they would have thought nothing of it,” he said.

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