New 'urgency' to find Malahat Highway alternative, B.C. transportation minister says

Claire Trevena says an alternative route to the often-closed artery is a priority for her ministry.

Finding an alternative route to the often-closed artery is now a ministry priority

Between 2011 and 2016, the Malahat was closed an average of 12 times per year, according to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. (@CeilidhMillar/Twitter)

B.C.'s minister of transportation is vowing give Vancouver Island "the investment it needs" to offer an alternative to the Malahat Highway, following a series of recent closures of the vital artery.

Accidents or rock slides have closed the route for hours at a time, essentially cutting off Victoria from the rest of the Island, unless drivers take a small ferry or a multi-hour detour. The highway closes on average roughly once a month.

Minister Claire Trevena said the government will be reviewing alternative routes and options within the month.

She laid out her plan of action to Gregor Craigie, CBC's host of On The Island.

Falling rocks closed the Malahat Highway earlier this week. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation)

There don't seem to be any easy or affordable alternative routes to the Malahat. What is the latest conversation you're having in government about this?

This is absolutely a priority for me and for my ministry — for too long, people have been seeing that link cut off.

On the one side, we've got the salmon spawning stream and Goldstream Park. On the other side, we've got the mountain — literally a rock and hard place.

If you go over the top, we've got a watershed.

To do a land detour is going to be very difficult.

B.C. Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena warns that any solution to solving the delays on the Malahat will be expensive, but the government is willing to spend the money. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Other alternatives that we are still exploring are the potential of a bridge but, realistically, that is going to be billions of dollars.

People say ferries but we get on average about 20,000 cars a day going through the Malahat and through the summer, it's often more than 30,000 a day.

We're not ruling out anything and if we can do a mixture of things, that would be terrific.

This wouldn't be the first road built through a watershed with certain restrictions, would it?

This is the water supply for communities in the South Island, so these are the conversations we'd have to have about what would this mean if we build a road.

These are things that my staff are examining and I have added a level of urgency.

A fatal crash closed the Malahat Highway for almost eight hours in August. (MainroadSouthIsland/Twitter)

Is there a deadline?

I'm looking at getting options in front of me within the next month.

Then, we'll try to refine them — how we move forward, which ones we can rule out immediately, which ones we can proceed with.

Is this something that your government is willing to spend considerable money on?

It's not going to be cheap whatever we come up with and we have a commitment to make sure that people across the Island can travel.

I, as a minister of transportation, am committed to make sure that after years of neglect the Island gets the investment it needs.

The E&N Rail Line is publicly owned but has been unused since 2011 and would need millions in upgrades (Friends of Rails to Trails/Facebook)

What about rail, is it still on the table?

Absolutely, we continue to have discussions about the E&N Rail Line.

But it is also a bit like we're talking about with bridges and ferries, a very expensive solution. 

This interview aired on On The Island on Sept.13 and has been edited for clarity, length and structure. To hear the complete interview, click on the audio below:

The Malahat highway, the main artery between Victoria and the rest of Vancouver Island, is a commuter's nightmare but B.C.'s Minister of Transportation is vowing give the island "the investment it deserves. 9:58

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