Every weekday morning and every rush hour on Sooke Road, a phenomenon erupts to the tune of frustration, idling engines, and bright-red brake lights as far as the eye can see: the Colwood Crawl.
It’s an unfortunate but familiar experience to anyone traveling to and from Sooke, and with the town’s population estimated to grow 40 per cent by 2026, it’s not likely to improve either.
Hope is on the horizon however, with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s proposed Highway 14 improvements next year, which includes widening of lanes, as well as the addition of more lanes.
Two desperately-needed arteries are also in the works: the Langford bypass and Leigh Road interchange.
The bypass will come through from West Shore Parkway and merge just northwest of Slegg Building Materials in Colwood.
Both projects (which are expected to cost between $16 million and $20 million) will bring traffic relief to the area and close down the notoriously-dangerous and current alternative route, Humpback Road.
This is separate from the $85 million for the long-overdue McKenzie Road interchange in Saanich.
“Doing away with Humpback and creating a real two or three or four lane ability to scoot through Langford without having to go all the way through Colwood will improve things for everyone,” said MLA John Horgan, adding that improvements on Sooke Road over the last few years include widening, bigger shoulders, better asphalt, as well as paint which helps drivers see the divisions in the road a lot better.
Despite modern improvements though, Horgan said it still takes him longer to get to his constituency office than it did 10 years ago, which is why adding or widening another lane may not be a long-term solution as that space will get filled up as well.
“You can’t just keep adding lanes and widening, at some point you have to find new and improved ways to move people around,” he said, adding that the infrastructure just isn’t keeping up with the population growth of Sooke or Langford.
Horgan also suggested that the government should look more towards making use of the E&N Railway corridor, with or without a train running on it.
“Pull up the track, throw down some asphalt, and you could be running buses in and out of town from Langford in 20 minutes, and you could do that without affecting the existing commute,” he said.
Another popular suggestion is making use of Sooke’s pioneer-era corridors that run through bush and mountains and bypass Sooke Road altogether, but that is a very expensive and unnecessary proposition at this point, noted Horgan, saying there are other, more accessible corridors right now to be taking advantage of.
“That’s something you’d want to look at in 2025 or 2035, because you’re not going to blast through a new road unless you need to do it to meet population growth.”
But the inherent problem of traffic congestion lies further afield than just infrastructure, as Horgan and acting mayor Kevin Pearson pointed out, especially considering that 60 and 70 per cent of Sooke residents travel out of town for work, which is mostly by car.
Technically, that number could be curbed by high-occupancy vehicle, also known as HOV, lanes and improved bus service, encouraging drivers to get out of their cars and get on a bus, though Pearson believes there’s an even better alternative to that: give residents the opportunity to work locally.
“Root cause of congestion is vehicles. Root cause of the vehicles is the jobs. If you can somehow move the jobs and strategically think about how you can do that, then you’re making progress,” Peason said, adding that creating satellite offices could be an option for at least a portion of Sookies, which would generate local employment and take more vehicles off the roads.
Construction on Highway 14 is expected to begin sometime late next year and extend into 2017.