Wednesday, February 6, 2019 ~ GREATER VICTORIA / WEST SHORE.
by Mary P Brooke ~ West Shore Voice News
Today the news day broke open with a blast of two letters that all south island mayors have sent to Premier John Horgan and Minister of Transportation & Infrastructure Claire Trevena, calling for one singular action to ease commuter traffic congestion: get the trains rolling again on the E&N Rail Corridor between Langford and Victoria.
It was only last week at a Victoria Chamber of Commerce luncheon on January 30 that Minister Trevena said that a regional strategy would be unveiled by September, including a funding formula for various aspects of transportation improvements including highways, roads, rail, cycling and pedestrian lanes and trails, bus transit, and more. The promised South Island Transportation Strategy (SITS) had already been announced on January 9.
“For too long the island’s been neglected,” Trevena said, promising to change that. She herself is of course an islander as the long-time MLA for North Island (including as Transportation critic in Opposition under the BC Liberals 2005-2017) and now Minister of Transportation & Infrastructure under the NDP government since 2017.
Langford’s Mayor said last week that he’s glad about the transportation strategy timeline being within this 2019 calendar year. “The next two months of engagement between the Minister and the municipalities is promising,” said Stew Young. “I’m looking forward to the report in September… with funding attached,” he said.
“People are extremely frustrated with congestion,” said Trevena last week. “It’s something we do need to work on” and pitched a comprehensive approach.
Today’s February 6 letter to Minister Trevena on City of Victoria letterhead says that “delaying action on the Victoria to Langford segment of the corridor will result in potentially losing federal government funding”. The mayors also write that “delaying further action means that our constituents and yours will continue to experience congestion, and that the South Island economy will be held back.”
The 13 mayors are calling for “immediate action to get the train running between Langford and Victoria and a commitment to the entire corridor on Vancouver Island through a phased approach that honours the wishes of First Nations along the corridor.” They further request “completion of the Bus Rapid Transit lanes to the Westshore without delay”.
The mayors are asking for a commitment in BC Budget 2019 to both endeavours.
“These two projects do not need further study; let’s fix the track, let’s complete the bus lanes, and let’s get moving people in the CRD”.
Both letters are signed by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps (who pushed for the bus lanes on Douglas St/Hwy 1 that now run from Tolmie to Burnside), together with Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins (in whose municipality is the DND base where many workers commute to), Metchosin Mayor John Ranns, North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr, Sooke Mayor Maja Tait (whose community relies on commuting to employment in the core), View Royal Mayor David Screech (whose town is smack dab in the middle of commuter routes), Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor (who is also meanwhile pitching for more transportation resources to support airport and ferry), Langford Mayor Stew Young (who in the past has pitched for electric buses to run on the E&N corridor instead of trains), Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith, Highlands Mayor Ken Williams, Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes (whose municipality includes major employers like the University of Victoria and Camosun College), Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch, and Colwood Mayor Rob Martin (whose municipality bears the colloquial brunt of congestion issues called ‘the Colwood crawl’).
Langford Mayor Stew Young has for several years voiced his views about dealing with commuter congestion that affects his growing city of 40,000+ people, many of whom commute to Saanich, Victoria or beyond. Ten years ago Langford put its density along the train corridor, hoping the train would be running.
“Right now I will take a train or electric bus that can also drive off track onto roads, or even an electric train,” he told West Shore Voice News today. “Let’s just get the government to take the corridor over from the non-profit Island Corridor Foundation and get some form of public transit on it,” he reiterated today. “Langford to Victoria is a good start!,” he said, being glad to have a unified approach of all the mayors to help solve this problem.
A new 100-year agreement with First Nations about use of the land that the corridor runs on is fundamental to the province making progress with use of the rail corridor, says Mayor Young.
Mayor Young also meanwhile has concerns about safety on the section of Highway 1 that runs through Langford. “Two fatalities in three weeks in the same area should deem this as one of the province’s highest priorities,” says Stew Young. [Separate article on call by Mayor Young for improvements to Highway 1 near Leigh Road, to come]
The 13-mayors letter to Premier Horgan opens with thanking the Horgan for his “government’s previously indicated commitment to rail on the island”. The mayors say they were pleased with the BC government’s action to “engage communities as to the use of this important corridor”.
In the letter to Horgan, the mayors again acknowledge the need for more study of track sections beyond Langford, but feel that delaying action on the Victoria to Langford segment will potentially results in losing federal government funding.
Horgan himself said in a Highway 14 roadside infrastructure announcement in Sooke on January 19, 2018 that no more studies were needed. A strategy to pull together existing studied material is something different, using resources that are already available. Not new studies, but weaving together what has been gathered.
The federal government promised infrastructure investment after Trudeau was elected in 2015. Federal infrastructure funding requires provincial and local governments to partner in such projects.
The lead does not come from the federal government, Trudeau said in a media scrum in Nanaimo in August 2018, but that it’s the local governments who need to say what they need for their communities and that it would be inappropriate for Ottawa to tell local municipalities what to build and where.
The Capital Regional District (CRD) board is still grappling with whether or not to have a regional transportation committee. With a $5 million budget attached to that, it could make more sense to have the province undertake transportation strategy for the south island region given all their resources to proceed quickly, says Langford’s mayor. Langford Councillor Denise Blackwell is vice-chair of the CRD board.