After a May 24 collision on the Malahat between a fuel truck and a van, traffic was delayed for around 14 hours, sending motorists scrambling for alternatives like the Brentwood Bay ferry. After the incident, Premier John Horgan mused about the possibility of a bridge across the Saanich Inlet as one possible solution.
As transportation critic, Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen has heard the argument for a bridge, but in an interview with the PNR, he says it would take too long, cost too much, and might not solve the problem.
“Why would we be looking at the engineering, the billions of dollars to build a bridge that might be 10 years away,” asked Olsen, “when we could solve the problem in the very short term by supporting either a public, public-private, or private passenger ferry service and provide the transit on either side to support that?”
Transit on either side of the ferry service, was important, he said, so people could have an alternative instead of driving their car down the Malahat. He said people should be cautious about adding lanes to highways and building bridges, because additional vehicle traffic could overwhelm the existing Pat Bay highway. Instead, Olsen wants to reduce vehicles and have multiple modes of transport (ferries, the Malahat, etc.) to spread the traffic out.
Olsen raised the issue on May 29 in Question Period, where he asked Claire Trevena, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, whether the government would investigate ferry services for the Saanich Inlet.
In Question Period, Olsen said a bridge “will be a giant black hole in our budget, increase greenhouse gas emissions and cars on the road and require expensive upgrades to Beacon, Mt. Newton, Keating, Sayward, Haliburton and Uptown.”
In her response, Trevena touted the government’s investments in BC Transit and promised to meet with Olsen on the issue.
Don Tom, chief of Tsartlip First Nation, said in an interview that he had not had serious discussions about a potential bridge.
“For myself, I think [potential plans] are in the early stages,” said Tom.
“We would have to see some environmental assessments and look at potential impacts on the Saanich Inlet before I would seriously consider such a project.”
Like Olsen, Tom also said a bridge might create congestion on Pat Bay highway. That, said Tom, would require studies by the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
He said whatever the solution, long-term certainty was key.
“People don’t change their behaviour unless they have the certainty that transportation option will be there,” said Olsen.