Tuesday, April 9, 2019 ~ SOOKE
by Mary P Brooke ~ West Shore Voice News
Last night at Sooke Council there was a strong audience interest in why it has taken the District of Sooke so long to rally around Highway 14 expansion — specifically, the idea of widening the highway fully from Langford to Sooke, also becoming known as the ‘four-laning’ project.
As one of the presenters representing the North Sooke Community Association said to Mayor Maja Tait and Council: “If not you, then who?”. That was an expression of urgency in getting Sooke elected officials to become more informed and more involved in discussions with the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) regarding the widening initiative.
“Following the open house last June (2018) and the public engagement period, Ministry staff received positive feedback regarding improvements to Highway 14 – particularly more passing lanes and possible realignments to straighten some of the curvier sections,” said MOTI yesterday. “The section between Connie Road and Gillespie Road was one of the areas identified for future improvements.”
MOTI says a project team has developed a concept alignment and in January 2019 began engagement with potentially impacted property owners. “The property owners have been shown a conceptual realignment, which has not been confirmed and could shift slightly in locations,” said MOTI. “The alignment has not been confirmed and funding has not yet been secured for future improvement projects.”
When asked at Sooke Council last night why Sooke has not been involved in detailed discussions with MOTI, it was revealed that Sooke staff did in fact have a bit more information (including some sketches) than had been provided to Council. As well, Mayor Tait said that since the District of Sooke has made no financial contribution to the proposed Highway 14 widening improvements that they were not “at the table” with the province in any way regarding details.
That passive approach to accepting whatever comes (essentially ‘taking what comes’ or believing there is no room for input or influence) was met with some frustration among the audience last night. After which, council passed a motion toward getting a meeting with the local MLA (who happens to be the Premier) to discuss the proposed highway realignment in North Sooke including a retelling of concerns addressed by the public at the April 8 meeting.
Sooke had more input when the roundabout in town center was installed in 2015, as Sooke had itself contributed funds to the project. Ironically, it is presently a government favourable to Sooke that is presently running BC, which seems to have Sooke council resting on its laurels and thinking all will be taken care of on its behalf.
What seemed to be absent from the discussion entirely was the reality that Sooke is fast-growing community that will need speedier, more reliable road transportation (whether for cars or buses) along the section between Langford and Sooke. The business community seems more aware of the need to open up the highway, while long-time residents or those focussed only on trying keep Sooke ‘as it has been’ are generally not on board for four-laning. Some residents of Sooke try to hold onto the rural dream, but growth of the town (including the “good quality jobs” that Mayor Tait reiterated about last night) depends on modernization and more reliable transportation access.
From a perspective of democratic process, it was good to see Mayor and council respond to the expressed needs of the community. But this is apparently the third time being approached by the North Sooke association, and there has been ample time for presumably connected elected officials to hear about the land acquisition discussions going on.
“We want to understand what’s unfolding,” said Mayor Tait toward the end of the Highway 14 widening discussion. However both Councillor Jeff Bateman and the mayor seemed to be coming from a stance of disbelief about how far a four-laning project could go. They were told by the North Sooke representatives (Eric Boucher and Maureen Sims) that there are three phases to the proposed widening. Tait said she’d heard that would take “half a billion dollars” and appeared to have dismissed the possibility of fruition. Bateman said there have been many studies over the years citing concerns about going through mountainous terrain, the need for multiple bridges, dealing with steep grades and environmental impacts. He cited a cost of $20 to $50 million cost per kilometre.
To reiterate the comment “if not you, then who”, if not this NDP pro-Sooke government coming through with plans and funding for expansion of Highway 14 (essentially the only route in and out of Sooke), then who? It should not be lost on Sooke that they fell way behind the eight-ball in terms of provincially-funded improvements (highways and otherwise) over the years under a BC Liberal government that was not likely eager to support John Horgan’s riding. What Sooke suffered for in 2005-2016 should certainly be sought now from a friendly government now while it lasts.
In addition to the concerns about speeding up traffic (and the inherent traffic dangers with that), some residents are concerned about the impact on their wells and water supply.
The Monday April 8 meeting of Sooke Council started at 7 pm and was apparently taped but the audience was told at the start of the meeting that there would not be a livecast due to “technical difficulties”.
There was a full audience of about 70 people, many there for the Highway 14 issue but also for a discussion about how many cannabis retail stores to allow in Sooke. Many in the audience were also there in support of Councillor Brenda Parkinson’s personal address regarding her health issues but how she plans to continue serving in her capacity of leadership on Council. Jeff Bateman was appointed as Parkinson’s alternate to CRD board committee(s) last month.