Saanich’s longest serving councillor questioned the McKenzie Interchange Project as she slammed senior spheres of government for their respective transportation policies.
Coun. Judy Brownoff said both the provincial and federal government need to do more around transportation and buildings to help reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) responsible for climate change.
“They have to be more engaged around those high priority areas,” she said. It was within this context that Brownoff criticized the project.
“For instance, investing over $80 million on a new interchange, which will create more greenhouse gases, instead of investing it into public transit,” she said.
The McKenzie Interchange Project at the intersection of the Trans-Canada Highway with Admirals Road and McKenzie Avenue in Saanich ranks among the most significant infrastructure projects in the region in recent memory. Years in planning, the project broke ground in September 2016 with an initial budget of $85 million with funding coming both from the provincial and the federal government.
Official documents say the “project will help improve traffic flow in the Capital Regional District, while reducing collisions and improving pedestrian and cyclist safety” as experts deem the intersection the “number one bottleneck” on Vancouver Island, a point supported by traffic flow numbers, as well as motor vehicle collisions.
But the project has also received criticism from environmentalists concerned about its impact on nearby Colquitz Creek and concerns about its final price tag are growing after the provincial government confirmed that the project has exceeded its budget by $11 million. Finally, the project has gone well beyond its original completion date of fall 2018 with completion now scheduled for summer 2020.
Once completed, Brownoff predicts that the project will only attract more traffic. “We cannot keep building bigger and bigger roads,” she said. “They don’t work. [They] just gobble more land and create more greenhouses gases, only for them to get full again.”
With this commentary, Brownoff echoes the theory that increasing the capacity of roads actually creates more traffic.
Brownoff also wondered why the current New Democratic provincial government has abandoned efforts by the previous government to bring some form of Light Rapid Transit (LRT) to the region.
“Nobody talks about LRT anymore,” she said.
While critics of the B.C. Liberals had questioned the sincerity of those efforts, New Democratic Premier John Horgan last year pumped the brakes on reviving the abandoned E&N Railway line. This said, pressure from Greater Victoria mayors has kept the idea on life support.
It should also be pointed out that the current provincial government has invested some $30 million in a system of continuous bus lanes in both directions between the Mackenzie Interchange and downtown Victoria.
Notably, that investment might actually underscore Brownoff’s point about the efficacy of public transit as buses carry 40 per cent of the people taking that route during peak hours, with buses themselves accounting for only three per cent of the traffic.
Brownoff’s critique came as Saanich council upped its climate change fighting goals. The new goals commit Saanich to cut community-wide greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 50 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030. The previous goal called for a reduction of 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050. The new climate goals also call for zero net emissions before 2050 as a complement to the target of becoming a 100 renewable energy community by 2080.
Several councillors said the new goals respond to the urgency of the situation, while acknowledging that fulfillment of the new goals will require a collective effort from the community at large, businesses, and senior spheres of government.
“Saanich may be a leader, but we need help,” said Coun. Karen Harper. “The Feds and the province have to step up. The rest of the world has to step up, quite frankly. But we are willing to do everything that we can.”
Council also urged Ottawa and Victoria to match Saanich’s goals