Sooke Road is a lot of things. A way out, a way in, and a lifeline for thousands who commute into town every day. Loved – not really, but one local group are hoping to change that.
Called the Sooke Juan de Fuca Working Group, it started out between several local business owners who kept seeing a constant discussion theme among their customers: Sooke Road (Highway 14).
“We thought we had a pretty good gauge on what the community wanted, that maybe not everyone was hearing,” said David Evans, owner of Stick in the Mud.
Evans and the others started the #DividedBy14 hashtag, a double entendre of how divided Sooke is from the rest of the Capital Regional District, and more so when an accident cuts off access both ways.
When using that hashtag, people have to write a number pertaining to their experience with Sooke Road, whatever it may be, like how many times they had to stop on the side of the road, or hit a deer, or got stuck on one side or another.
The group isn’t clamoring for a new road necessarily, but is hoping to create awareness of a growing pain for Sooke and anyone travelling here.
“That’s why we’re doing this grass-roots campaign, we need our politicians to understand that we’re not joking. We’re tired of being forgotten, of having a crappy road that is underserviced and strands us from the CRD,” Evans added.
But while a second road into town is a growing desire among Sooke residents, Sooke isn’t the only town in B.C. that faces a “one way in one way out” scenario, said Janelle Erwin, Transport Ministry deputy director, South Coast Region, albeit emphasizing the importance of continously improving Sooke Road, which sees around 14,000 vehicles daily.
“What we need to be doing is making sure that road is safe so that crashes are limited and there aren’t closures, and if there are closures that we’re working with our emergency services partners and figuring out how do we get that road opened as quickly as possible,” she said.
In the last five years, MOT invested more than $7 million into improving Sooke Road between Langford and Sooke, and this year it will invest $800,000 to improve visibility and lighting at Parkland, Gillespie and Connie roads, as well as using a new type of paint to make night driving safer.
Erwin pointed out any major improvements along Sooke Road will be part of a Highway 14 corridor study, which will look at ongoing safety issues at key spots, such as Gillespie and Connie roads.
”We know there isn’t a lot of passing opportunities and there’s lots of driveways along the corridor, lots of areas where there’s changes in speed and need to reduce speed,” she said, adding the study will give MOT a sense of what needs to be done and how much it’ll cost. A final report is expected to be ready sometime this summer.
The group also approached several local politicians to get the wheels going, including MLA John Horgan, who expressed interest in the movement to better Highway 14.
“We need to make sure that Highway 14 is working for a growing community, and I’m excited to have business leaders coming together to promote that. Should I be fortunate enough to form government, I very much look forward to sitting down with them and implementing some of their ideas.”