McKenzie interchange could jeopardize park setting

Mount View-Colquitz resident suggests alternative to mitigate impact

A Saanich resident has proposed McKenzie Avenue - Admirals Road runs underneath the Trans Canada Highway for the new interchange. It uses a single light (not seen) underneath the overpass to control eastbound highway traffic exiting northbound onto McKenzie. The design would also have a minimal impact on Cuthbert Holmes Park.

When Andrew Jung learned of the province’s 2015 announcement to build a new McKenzie Interchange, he worked for days on end to create a proposal for the interchange all his own.

The Mount View-Colquitz resident is an information architect at the University of Victoria. He lives just around the corner and passes trough the McKenzie-Admirals intersection with the Trans Canada Highway on a daily basis, which is why he already had several ideas floating around in his head that could solve the solution. He just needed to put it on paper.

“When I heard there would be a clover leaf [to accommodate on and off ramps] and additional land used I wanted to design my own,” Jung said. “It doesn’t need to use more land, it basically has enough land.”

In Jung’s proposal, McKenzie-Admirals would tunnel beneath the TCH. An exit lane going southbound on the TCH (towards Victoria) for McKenzie Avenue would drop beneath the highway. Same as the exit lane for northbound traffic on the TCH that wanted to exit left onto Admirals Road. The only traffic light would be underneath the highway, where McKenzie-Admirals through traffic would intersect with the aforementioned left turn off ramps.

“During peak hours the amount of McKenzie-Admirals through traffic is very minimal, the [left turn] exit lanes would have the majority of the right of way,” Jung said.

A few more things stand out from Jung’s proposal. One is the process for re-routing traffic during the construction, including the use of mobile bailey bridges crossing the dug-out portion of McKenzie-Admirals.

“It’s already sitting on fill that would be removed back out,” Jung noted.

Another element is the Galloping Goose will flow uninterrupted over the McKenzie entrance to the interchange, with on-and-off options for users. But most importantly for local advocates such as Cuthbert Holmes Park steward Dorothy Chambers, is that Jung’s proposal minimizes any impact on the park.

Chambers recently toured through Cuthbert Holmes with a group Ministry of Transportation representatives and a member of Saanich Parks and is highly concerned about the environmental impact on the northwest corner of Cuthbert Holmes, which is also the southeast corner of the intersection.

Should Option 2’s partial clover leaf be built, it will use a large section of the park as far south as the permanently closed Burke Street, much more than the ministry’s right of way.

“The highway’s storm water situation is already complicated enough, as it flows down to the pristine mud flats of the Colquitz estuary,” Chambers said. “And the right of way has to be considered a necessary buffer between the ecosystem and the highway, not just highway land ready to use.”

The Ministry of Transportation’s Option 1, to date, is a diamond interchange that also encroaches on the park but with less impact.

The clover leaf would also cover the section of Cuthbert with fill and pavement.

“It would remove a stand of fir trees that are crucial nesting trees of red tail hawks,” Chambers said. “It would destroy the remaining grove of trembling aspen, which is highly unique to the area. And it would be devastating in general to the Colquitz.”

Cuthbert Holmes is known as a heron nesting ground but is more than that, Chambers explains. The barren “scrub” land seen from the highway is the regular hunting grounds for the hawks, and running an eastbound on-ramp through there will have an impact. She said most, if not all of the park, should be protected under the federal Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

“There are well over 100 birds that call come here, and many are nesting birds here, and yet the environmental assessment to date for the interchange has been done by aerial photos,” Chambers said. “When I walked through here with the Ministry of Transportation they didn’t know where the storm water drain was draining, it’s covered by trees.”

Most of the storm water that drains from the highway to the Colquitz will likely go through a new rain swale, Chambers was told. The theory is it would filter contaminants from leaking into the Colquitz.

Five years ago Chambers fought a battle against Saanich to keep its newly purchased section of the Colquitz shore from becoming a community garden on the river bank (which would have bled fertilizers and nitrogen directly into the Colquitz).

The community garden plan fell through in 2011 when Saanich hired a third-party consultant Westland Resource Group to do an environmental assessment. It found most of the park is ecologically sensitive and at high risk to human disturbance,

If the partial clover leaf is the chosen option, and comes right down to Burke Street, it’ll be an ironic turn of events after Saanich spent decades acquiring properties along Colquitz that backed onto Burke.

At a recent Gorge Waterway Initiative meeting it was noted the Ministry of Transportation’s public consultation format takes feedback without sharing the results of a full environmental assessment.

In a response, the province said the McKenzie project does not meet the thresholds that would trigger an environmental assessment under the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It also said it’s conducting a detailed assessment of potential impacts to the environment associated with the project, including identifying potentially sensitive ecosystems and species at risk.

The environmental assessment report is expected to be finalized and made available on the project website by the end of April. ]

The second round of public consultation closed in early March. A third round will take place in a few months but it’s unknown to what extent the environmental assessment could have on the ministry’s plans.

As for Jung, he submitted his proposal to the Ministry of Transportation and did receive a few questions from an engineer, but no other response beyond that.

For more information on the McKenzie Interchange Project visit engage.gov.bc.ca/mckenzieinterchange.

reporter@saanichnews.com