British Columbia

'Enough is enough:' Commuters demand improved route to Victoria after another Malahat Hwy closure

A fatal crash on Vancouver Island closed the Malahat highway in both directions for almost eight hours on Wednesday, causing havoc on the roads and prompting commuters who live in the area to call for an alternative route.

Fatal crash on Vancouver Island closed highway for 8 hours on Wednesday

Wednesday's fatal accident was the latest in a long line of crashes that has closed down the Malahat Highway. (MainroadSouthIsland/Twitter)

A fatal crash that closed the Malahat Highway for almost eight hours Wednesday has spurred commuters in the area to call for an alternative route.

The stretch of Highway 1, which is the main artery between Victoria and the rest of Vancouver Island, commonly sees accidents. When it closes, people are essentially cut off from the capital unless they travel by water or take a multi-hour detour.

"We've all gotten to a point now where enough is enough," said Paul Russell, who lives in the Cowichan Valley.

"It's happening too often. It's become basically a monthly and sometimes even weekly occurrence where that highway gets shut down."

'It's antiquated'

Russell has started a petition calling for an alternative route to the Malahat.

He said the growing population of the island, combined with rising house prices in Victoria, is pushing people further from the city and putting more commuters on the road.

"The road was probably very sufficient in the 1970s and 1980s but I think that now … it's antiquated and doesn't serve the purpose anymore," Russell said.

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation is conducting a review to look at alternatives to the highway, such as a bridge or more ferry services.

In July 2016, $34 million was committed to safety improvements along the highway, including expanding sections to four lanes. 

Traffic is often at a standstill at the Malahat Highway, commuters complain, as this footage from July 22 shows. (Government of British Columbia)

Ocean alternatives

Joanne Stephenson, a moderator on several Malahat-focused Facebook groups, said more roadside support is needed to help reduce congestion during accidents.

"The first thing that crosses my mind is: who is there to make sure that traffic is able to get back out, to make sure that they can be turned around? Do they have access to facilities?" Stephenson said.

Earlier this week, Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor suggested putting a second ferry on the Mill Bay-Brentwood Bay route to help when the highway is shut down.

"Obviously, we know that this is not going to address the volume of traffic that goes up and down the Malahat but if there is an incident, it provides an alternative," Windsor said.

The Mill Bay ferry terminal, which offers a route to Brentwood Bay. (CHEK News)

Mark Guiguet, who owns and operates a fishing charter boat, agrees that an alternative route over water is the best solution for the time being.

He spent Wednesday shuttling stuck commuters back and forth in his boat as the lineup at the Brentwood Bay-Mill Bay ferry terminal was hours long.

"Many [people] were in panic situations, having to get to the airport, hospital, many different stories," Guiguet said. "When you have a flight at one o'clock and it's a quarter to 11 …. It's certainly a relief to be able to get there."

He did seven runs and, after covering his gas costs, donated the profits to the family of Wednesday's crash victim.

CBC requests for interviews with the Ministry of Transportation and the premier were declined.

With files from All Points West and On The Island

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