Pedestrian river crossing shelved

Laura Byrne

District of Sooke council is shelving plans to build a pedestrian bridge across the Sooke River. The crossing was to be a connector to the Galloping Goose Trail but preliminary cost estimates came in far too high to continue with the project at this time.

Lots of discussion ensued before the decision was made to scrap the plans, although council did vote to use up the money they allocated for the detailed design plans for site 3. The project was allocated $25,000 from the District of Sooke budget and $25,000 from a Capital Regional District contribution. The plans would be necessary if grants were applied for in the future.

The consultant came up with four potential sites for the crossing ranging in price from $1,391,400 for site 5 (Sooke River Road to Phillips Road at the Sooke Potholes); site 3, $1,510,200 (Soule Road to Sunriver Nature Trail Park); Site 7, $1,739,800 (Sooke River Road ROW to Phillips Road ROW); and site 2, $2,246,700 (Sooke River Road to Phillips Road).

“The cost are extremely higher than we originally thought,” said Mayor Janet Evans. “It was a priority of council and part of the Parks and Trails Master Plan.” She said council never approved a $2 million price tag.

Laura Byrne, Parks and Environmental Services Coordinator for the district said the river crossing was part of the Parks and Trails Master Plan after extensive public consultation. She said it was not just for foot movement but for the experience of it, i.e: a nature walk. She said the crossing would not be for public vehicles but for emergency vehicles if no other route was available. She also said it would be a “green” initiative to get people out of their cars and walking.

Councillors Dave Bennett and Sheila Beech were in favour of carrying on with the pedestrian crossing. Beech said it would bring cyclists to the local B&Bs and Bennett said it was important for the district to look long-range as we had to depend on eco-tourism to pull people into Sooke. He did say it was an “ambitious project.”

Councillor Ron Dumont stated that he felt the report presented to council took away council’s choice as to location of a crossing. “We never had any discussion after we got the report,” he said.

Councillors Herb Haldane and Bev Berger opposed the river crossing because of the high cost and the priority of the project.

“If we are interested in eco-tourism we need a wheelchair friendly downtown. Why spend $2 million to benefit out-of-town people?” said Haldane. “We don’t have the money.”

Berger said there was so much more they have to do than spend money on a Galloping Goose bridge and there was more they could do in the downtown core. She said it should be looked at in the future.

Elisabeth Nelson, municipal engineer, stated that the Ministry of Transport was now not opposed to having a crossing next to the bridge and that site could be considered.

Public comments included a question of public approval of any crossing, the priority of the project and twinning a cycling land on the existing bridge.

“I consider this a frivolity,” said Ellen Lewers.