Addressing Public Concerns About the Role of North Saanich in the McTavish Road Interchange Project

It has recently come to my attention that some North Saanich residents have questions about the role of Mayor and Council in the proposed McTavish Road Interchange project. I understand that they are critical of what they perceive as a lack of intervention and representation on the part of North Saanich Council to stop or change the project, especially its design. As this perception is, in my view, inaccurate and concerns me, I want to share with you my general response to a local resident who contacted me this past week. If, after reading my reply below, you have any further questions or comments, please call me or send me an e-mail message. You may also want to contact other Council members with your comments/questions. Thank you.

Dear Resident:
Mayor Alice Finall has shown real leadership and was the first off the mark once this project was announced (by the federal and provincial governments and the Victoria Airport Authority) and called together the North Saanich and Sidney Councils asking for our feedback and arranging for two important meetings: a combined meeting with the Province at Council Chambers that included Sidney and North Saanich Council members and staff, where hard questions and community concerns were presented to the Province, resulting in a design change that restored McTavish Road as a thru street to Lochside; the other is Councilor Ruby Commandeur's suggestion for the formation of a Citizens' Liaison Committee, which was ratified at this week's Council meeting, as another vehicle for involving the community in giving ongoing feedback to the Province.

We also discussed the project at length at the last neighbourhood meeting in early June for Dean Park and the Southeast Quadrant. The comments and concerns expressed at that meeting were also shared with our municipal engineering staff who are in regular communication with Provincial staff. You can find a copy of the meeting minutes on the District website and my comments on this blog.

Further, Mayor Finall and I, as your representatives on the Tri-Municipal Council Committee, also raised issues on behalf of North Saanich residents at the last meeting in early June at which Mayor Cross, Mayor Mar and Mayor Frank Leonard of Saanich were present, along with senior staff from each of the three Peninsula municipalities. Mayor Cross and Mayor Finall keep in constant touch on this topic, both having major concerns about the impacts of the project on traffic in our two communities. Mayor Finall has also raised residents' concerns and suggestions for alternative designs with the Airport Authority.

We are trying to influence the process but as you must know, ultimately, we are at the mercy of the federal and provincial governments and the Airport Authority -- the Airport asked initially for the intersection improvements and raised $3-million to support the project. We supported the project in principle because of the belief that changes would result in major improvements to traffic safety and management at that intersection. We were never formally asked for input on the original design or to participate financially in the project nor would we do so, given the current economic decline and our attempts to hold the line on any local spending. We have, however, consistently shared with the Province alternative designs, ideas and concerns suggested by local residents.

I understand that Mayor Finall in fact attended the Open House the other night (June 17th), as did other Council members.

I don't mind taking the flack when it's well deserved, but on this topic I feel that the criticism is unfounded and the information is not accurate. I believe we are doing all we can to try to provide an effective voice for our community. The metaphor I will use is this -- we are trying to turn a freighter in a very tight space. In the end, I feel it is unrealistic to expect this Mayor and Council to radically change or stop the project when we are not in control at any level, including financially. We will continue to work within the limitations we face and to present community concerns at every opportunity.

I encourage you to contact MLA Murray Coell and MP Gary Lunn with your comments and concerns and you may also want to participate on the Citizens' Liaison Committee. Please watch for announcements about the Committee on the District website and in the Peninsula News Review.