Saanich council took a better-late-than-never stance on Monday in supporting a pair of resolutions that respond to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s cloverleaf design of the McKenzie interchange going into Cuthbert Holmes Park.
But it was a third motion, from Coun. Vic Derman, to call on the ministry to reconsider the cloverleaf interchange proposal in favour of a diamond proposal that drew a provincial reaction on Tuesday.
“They could easily reconsider, it’s an existing design that will probably accomplish the same thing, and they don’t have to sit down and do a new design, they just need to switch,” said Derman.
The cloverleaf was announced as the final design concept on April 26 for the $85 million McKenzie interchange. It’s brought a bitter response from councillors and residents alike as it will encroach on nesting areas for migratory and native birds, and move closer to the salmon-bearing Colquitz River.
“The cloverleaf is the most damaging and disruptive interchange option to Cuthbert Holmes, and we are not sure it will make a difference to the amount of traffic on McKenzie,” Derman said in the motion.
Mayor Richard Atwell and Couns. Leif Wergeland and Susan Brice voted against the motion.
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone said he was surprised by the move from Saanich, and added the interchange is fundamentally critical for the South Island, and in terms of traffic, it’s good for the environment.
“We’re going to stick with this particular plan,” Stone said. “I want to say clearly to residents around Cuthbert Holmes Park and Saanich that we’ll work with them to ensure impacts are mitigated as much as possible.”
However, despite coming two weeks after the announcement, multiple councillors said they weren’t told the cloverleaf was going to happen.
“We would have liked to have seen more respect from the ministry to explain what they think worked and didn’t work from the community groups, but there was no response,” said Coun. Fred Haynes about the interchange’s public consultation process. “I am sincerely disappointed, I didn’t know about the [cloverleaf] until the day it was announced publicly.”
Council’s first resolution from Monday is to support the Saanich community groups and park stakeholders who were dismayed with the announcement. To do so, council will send a letter to the ministry asking for the intersection proposal submitted by the Gorge Tillicum Community Association to be given a response, if not a serious look.
Brice and Wergeland were among those contending it was too late to be approaching the ministry now and it would be best to just accept the cloverleaf.
Brice chairs the Parks, Trails and Recreation advisory committee which also submitted a resolution, a direction for staff to work closely with the ministry to minimize the impact on the park and work within the Cuthbert Holmes 2015 park management plan.
“This was not to just transmit a letter but something staff could embrace and go forward with to discuss with ministry on a personal basis,” Brice said.
Rob Wickson, president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, still wished for a chance to sit down with someone from the Ministry of Transportation who knows how to run the traffic models to see what can be done to not impact the park.
“The CRD spent seven years building a regional growth strategy and now it’s out the window. It didn’t fit what the province liked,” Wickson said.
Derman was the most vocal councillor in his opposition to the interchange, calling it shortsighted while pointing out the traffic jam will only be pushed down the road to the next intersections, such as along the McKenzie corridor.
“If the ministry was really supporting transit they’d spend $85 million on a streetcar from downtown to Uptown… but most of the money in this project is going to the ease of single occupancy vehicles,” Derman said. “If you want to see what happens when you continue on that path, look at the mess of freeways in California where they kept building them bigger.”
Derman also said he was surprised the cloverleaf option was approved, as Saanich’s Bike, Pedestrian and Mobility advisory committee identified the cloverleaf as undesirable and did not support it.
“All of this seemed to fall on deaf ears. If you get people on McKenzie faster, they’ll just hit a series of lights starting with Burnside, then Carey, then Glanford, then after Highway 17 its Saanich Road and then Quadra-McKenzie,” Derman added. “Those are all already congested at peak hours, so how does a cloverleaf design relieve that congestion?”
Instead, the ministry should have started by asking council what Saanich’s priorities are, Derman added.
“Let’s design around those priorities, rather than saying, here are the designs, and then, we’re picking this one.”