An ATV was used for queue management and to distribute water to motorists waiting during the Malahat closure Thursday. (Photo by @TranBC/Twitter)

Saanich Inlet bridge billion-dollar price tag too expensive says ministry

Malahat alternatives not practical from engineering, budget standpoint

After a late morning crash Thursday closed the Malahat for roughly 13 hours and snarled traffic on southern Vancouver Island, highway critics and motorists alike were calling for more alternatives to the Capital Region’s main north-south artery.

While a number of public figures and local residents floated the idea of a bridge over the Saanich Inlet, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure reiterated that at this time, that option isn’t practical from an engineering or budget standpoint.

RELATED: Seven years later, what’s changed since the 2011 Malahat fuel truck crash and closure

The ministry referenced a 2007 review that took a comprehensive look at building a bridge to connect Brentwood Bay to Mill Bay. Bridge options ranged in length from 1.4 to four kilometres but a crossing of that size was estimated to cost upwards of $1 billion for the bridge alone.

“The many logistical challenges include seismic considerations, requirements for shipping, approvals by Coast Guard and Navigable Waters Canada, and the connecting road infrastructure that would be needed on the Saanich Peninsula,” said the ministry in a statement. “There would be significant environmental challenges as well including parkland, the watershed for the Greater Victoria water supply, and disruption of sensitive ecosystems. First Nations’ interests and archaeological impacts would also need to be considered. Ministry staff have also heard from many in the community that bypassing the Malahat Village would negatively affect those businesses that rely on tourist traffic.”

RELATED: Malahat closure snarls traffic

The ministry is instead focusing on safety upgrades to the existing corridor, including the $18.5 million upgrade through the Malahat Village, which is scheduled to be completed later this summer. An 11-kilometre section between Finlayson Arm Road and the Malahat Summit has seen safety improvements including upgrades to intersections and median barriers to protect against crossover collisions.

“In the long term, the ministry intends to continue to work toward safety improvements for the corridor, including more four-laning and adding median barrier to the route. The ministry has looked at alternate routes, but at this point in time, none are deemed practical from an engineering or budget standpoint,” continued the statement.

“For example, a high-level cost estimate to bypass the Goldstream section is upwards of $600 million. There are also numerous challenges to widening the existing highway through Goldstream, not the least of which would be the impact on the park … There are significant costs and engineering challenges associated with alternate routes that have been considered to this point. If there are reasonable ideas for options that are brought forward, we would take a look at those ideas.”

RELATED: Two people injured in crash on Malahat

After Thursday’s crash closed the Trans-Canada Highway in both directions motorists were faced with limited detour options. Hundreds of vehicles took to the roughly 3.5 hour drive along the Pacific Marine Circle Route, which runs between Langford through Sooke, Port Renfrew and Duncan. However, they faced lengthy delays due to a crash and congestion.

Others were stuck waiting in line for hours for the small passenger ferry that runs between Brentwood Bay and Mill Bay. B.C. Ferries added three additional sailings from both sides in an attempt to help alleviate the lineups.

Finlayson Arm Road was also open as a detour option but due to the small, winding nature of the that roadway, it wasn’t able to handle any commercial traffic. A pilot vehicle also had to lead groups of motorists, one direction at a time.

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