SOOKE – Over the past decade, Sooke’s population has grown significantly. So significantly that the infrastructure in place to serve the community no longer does so effectively. As the second fastest growing community on Vancouver Island, Sooke’s population has increased by 50% in the past two decades, without much of the additional infrastructure spending that could have been expected.

By 2035, it is forecast that Sooke’s population will double to over 25,000. As a result, transportation infrastructure is repeatedly identified as the most important issue affecting Sooke and the business community. Over the coming years, our urgent need for highway improvements will only increase.

Our town’s main arterial corridor and only crossing of Sooke River, Highway 14, requires immediate upgrades to improve road safety, reduce travel times and increase capacity. It is estimated that as many as 60% of Sooke residents use a portion of the highway each day, many during peak travel hours and as commuters to Langford, Colwood, Esquimalt and Victoria.

Commercial and industrial traffic has increased in lock-step with the population and the result is that all of these vehicles travel along one 15 kilometre stretch of single-lane road.  In 2008, the provincial government reported that “the traffic demand on the highway is anticipated to surpass the available capacity if no future upgrades are completed resulting in service level F (breakdown flow; demand routinely exceeds capacity)”.

The same report stated that “difficult roadway geometry, limited access control and increasing traffic volumes contribute to safety performance concerns along the Highway 14 corridor”. Unfortunately, few improvements have addressed the serious safety and capacity issues identified in this report.  Seven years later these predictions have been proven accurate.

Provincial and District of Sooke data shows that there is an accident on Highway 14 every 36 hours. Serious accidents often result in the complete closure of the highway with no alternate route. These frequent barriers to travel between Sooke and the surrounding communities have a serious negative impact on the local economy and many Sooke residents.

The much-needed highway improvements include:

Highway 14 re-alignment (including straightening); improved road lighting along the length of the highway from Langford to Sooke and most importantly at intersections. If the entire 15 kilometres were lit, less than 175 street lamps affixed to existing electrical poles would be needed.

Transit improvements including facilities such as bus pull-outs, Park’n’Ride facilities, and shared parking facilities. A minimum of three new Park’n’Ride lots are required in well-known locations as well as the development of the local road network and parallel routes to reduce demand on the main road.

Widened shoulders, bike lanes to separate slow moving and stopped traffic are also needed and pull-outs, lay-bys or passing lanes to allow improved traffic flow and create opportunities to pass slow-moving industrial and commercial traffic such as logging trucks.

The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce doesn’t have all of the answers to our community’s transportation issues but we do believe the time has passed for all levels of government to work closely with the community towards resolving the long-standing safety and capacity concerns regarding Highway 14.

– Sean Dyble is the President of the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce and the owner of 120 West Management Consulting.