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Crossing the Gorge a major hurdle for Craigflower Bridge project

Moving drivers, pedestrians and cyclists across the Gorge Waterway is a cinch – as long as each part of the whole transportation network is operational.

Take one of the pieces out of the equation – say, Craigflower Bridge – and that quick 400-metre trip from Craigflower to Gorge road becomes a 4.5-kilometre detour.

"We're having a real difficult time with this," said Jim Hemstock, manager of transportation with the District of Saanich.

With Saanich council's approval of the new bridge on Monday, along with a six-month closure of the bridge and adjacent roads, Hemstock is tasked with figuring out how to best get people across the water.

Drivers are out of luck – they'll have to detour. But pedestrians and students travelling to and from Craigflower elementary from the other side of the waterway won't be expected to take the lengthy scenic route.

"Whatever we decide has to come out of our ($10.775-million project) budget," Hemstock said. That budget is already tapped out, covering costs for the new three-lane bridge and road redesigns on both the Saanich and View Royal sides.

There are really only two options now: building a temporary pedestrian walkway – to the tune of $250,000 – or providing buses to move the students back and forth, at a cost of $50,000.

On Monday night, Coun. Paul Gerrard urged Hemstock to choose the former option.

"The buses are well for the students, but I'm looking for a way to get ordinary pedestrians over, as well," Gerrard said. "And I'm quite sure the businesses at Admiral's Walk and the Canadian Tire are not going to be very happy unless there's some way of getting their patrons across."

A third option, building docks and offering a water taxi, had been mulled about, but Hemstock said the environmental impacts of that would be "pretty substantial."

There's also the potential for having guided escorts move pedestrians across the bridge during construction. But even using the existing bridge in the early stages of construction and the new bridge frame once it’s built, Hemstock estimates there would be at least two months where neither crossing would be usable.

"The further along we go, the more difficult it will be to (to find the money in the existing budget," he said.

Now that both Saanich and View Royal council have approved the bridge concept (ownership of the bridge is shared by the two municipalities), engineers are working on a detailed design.

"What does the railing look like? What is the finish of the sidewalk? What is the colour of the bike lane? And we're also looking at much more detail at what happens for traffic (during the six-month closure)," Hemstock said.

An open house is tentatively schedule for Feb. 22 for public input on the detailed bridge design. The decision on how to get people across the water during construction will be made by then.

Councillor Dean Murdock was the sole dissenting voice at council Monday, not supporting the redesigned bridge due to unresolved concerns from area residents.

"The public engagement process on this has been a little bit wanting," he said.

The proposed parkade at the University of Victoria was rejected twice by Saanich due to a lack of meaningful consultation with neighbours. Murdock said he feels municipal staff acted in a similar manner with the bridge as UVic did with the parkade.

Discussions with the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, as well as other stakeholder groups, will continue as the project moves forward. Most of the concerns of the community association surround traffic issues that will come with the larger bridge.

The decision to make the bridge three lanes instead of two was made so that, in the future, there would be an option for a queue-jumping lane for buses or light-rail transit.

Councillors Vic Derman and Nichola Wade were absent from the meeting.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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