Tuesday’s announcement of the final concept design for the new McKenzie interchange on the Trans-Canada Highway has left more than a few feathers ruffled.
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone revealed the design for the $85 million project on the steps of the provincial legislature with Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell, among others.
While the many amenities of the partial cloverleaf design is a welcome relief for daily downtown commuters from the West Shore, and a new Galloping Goose overpass is enticing for cyclists, the rest of it has sparked outrage from members in the Gorge Tillicum Community Association. That includes the cloverleaf portion of the interchange encroaching over a large portion of Cuthbert Holmes Park, which will move within 100 metres of the federally recognized Colquitz River estuary, bird sanctuary and wildlife habitat including salmon.
“I’m disappointed, we could do better,” said Rob Wickson, president of GTCA. “It’s low quality, like a typical highway design you’d put out on the Coquihalla or something, plunked down into an urban setting.”
Stone said there will be a disruption to Cuthbert Holmes but that the ministry is working closely with “those stakeholders to minimize the impact.”
The province will “swap” a tract of right-of-way land in Cuthbert Holmes in lieu of the lost park.
Wickson disagreed with the province’s approach.
“They pushed as hard as they can to get the stakeholders to agree with everything they said, and when we pushed back they found every excuse they could think of not to [listen].”
Traffic wise, the chosen McKenzie design will prioritize the uninterrupted east-west flow and on-ramps for the Trans Canada Highway. It has dedicated bus lanes and will allow for the future addition of LRT. It will also upgrade the Burnside West/McKenzie intersection about 200 metres up McKenzie, said Atwell.
“The Burnside intersection wasn’t originally in the scope of the project, but they listened to ideas that came from the community and from Saanich engineering to make alterations to Burnside West/McKenzie.”
Atwell said there will be additional turn lanes installed where Burnside intersects with McKenzie, which is actually on a corridor of provincial land.
“We’ll have to monitor the project to see what impact it will have on the rat running of people trying to avoid McKenzie at all costs,” Atwell said. “Some try to go south on Marigold to get to McKenzie, and Carey is also an issue, so [additional turn lanes onto McKenzie] should free up the traffic to a great degree.”
Atwell notes the wetland and rain swale planned for the centre of the cloverleaf will minimize the loss of parkland. The cloverleaf will be installed on a filled section of Cuthbert Holmes including the current parking lot accessible from Admirals Road, and is expected to run as far south as the now-closed Burke Street. Saanich spent decades purchasing the historic homes on Burke for their waterfront access to the Colquitz. They removed the buildings to turn the property back into parkland.
The existing Cuthbert Holmes parking lot off Admirals will be replaced closer to Burke.
Stone also spoke of the expected traffic delays during the construction period, which will start in the fall and will take 18 to 24 months.
“We’re pretty good at delivering major projects while moving traffic through,” said Stone. “We’ll do as much of the work on off hours as we can, evenings and weekends, and work closely with local government stakeholders, most notably the District of Saanich.”
Construction will start with the Galloping Goose overpass.
The design will be presented in greater detail at an open house at St. Joseph the Worker Parish Hall, 753 Burnside Rd. W., from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. on May 18.