Another View: Chamber wants highway improved

Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce's Chamber Chatter

No one can argue against the fact that Sooke’s population has grown significantly in recent years or that the highway infrastructure in place does not effectively serve our town’s needs.

As the second fastest growing community on Vancouver Island, Sooke’s population has increased by 50 per cent in the past two decades without much money being spent on improvements along Highway 14. By 2035, it is forecast that Sooke’s population will double to over 25,000. As a result, transportation infrastructure is repeatedly identified as the most important issue affecting the residents of Sooke and the economic viability of our business community. In the coming years, the urgent need for highway improvements will only increase.

Our town’s main arterial corridor and only crossing of Sooke River (Hwy 14) requires immediate upgrades to improve road safety, reduce travel times and increase capacity. These are in addition to the the construction of the roundabout. It is estimated as many as 60 per cent of Sooke residents use a portion of the highway each day, many during peak travel hours and as commuters. Commercial and industrial traffic has increased in lock-step with the population and the result is that all of these vehicles travel along one 15 km stretch of single-lane road between Sooke and Langford.

In 2008, the provincial government reported, “the traffic demand on the highway is anticipated to surpass the available capacity if no future upgrades are completed resulting in service level F (breakdown flow; demand routinely exceeds capacity).” The same report stated, “difficult roadway geometry, limited access control and increasing traffic volumes contribute to safety performance concerns along the Highway 14 corridor.” Unfortunately, only a few improvements have addressed the serious safety and capacity issues identified in these reports. Seven years later these predictions have been proven accurate.

Provincial and District of Sooke data shows there is an accident on Hwy 14 every 36 hours. Serious accidents often result in the complete closure of the highway with no alternate route. These frequent barriers to travel between Sooke and the surrounding communities have a serious negative impact on the local economy and to Sooke residents.

Business community members have repeatedly voiced these realities and over the past two years the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce has advocated on their behalf with six separate position letters on the issues, outlining the problems as well as the possible solutions, and sent these to the District of Sooke, our local MLAs, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, and the Ministry of Tourism and Small Business.

The most recent position letter (which appears on the Chamber website at http://sookeregionchamber.com/media-news/position-letters) was sent out on May 29 and includes the following much-needed improvements:

Highway 14 re-alignment (including straightening);

Improved road lighting along the length of the highway from Langford to Sooke and most importantly at intersections. If the entire 15 ms were lit, less than 175 street lamps affixed to existing electrical poles would be needed;

Transit improvements including facilities such as bus pull-outs, Park’n’Ride facilities, and shared parking facilities. A minimum of three new Park’n’Ride lots are required in well-known locations;

The development of the local road network and parallel routes to reduce demand on the main road;

Widened shoulders and bike lanes to separate slow moving and stopped traffic; and

Pull-outs, lay-bys or passing lanes to allow improved traffic flow and create opportunities to pass slow-moving industrial and commercial traffic such as logging trucks.

The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce doesn’t have all of the answers to our community’s transportation issues but we do know that it is long overdue for all levels of government to work closely with the community towards resolving the current safety and capacity concerns regarding Hwy 14. This is a critical issues that adversely affects us all and there is a clear expectation from the residents and the local business community for the District of Sooke to show leadership, to take initiative, and to support the needs of our town.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, please do not hesitate to contact the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce office at 250.642.6112 or info@sookeregionchamber.com.