Residents on the east side of the Malahat still feel at risk every time they get in their cars and head south, despite completion of the most recent safety improvements.
The $34 million project in the Malahat Village area includes making five kilometres of the highway four lanes with more shoulder room, three kilometres of median barriers, and safer highway access through a frontage and back road system with a new turnaround facility and overhead lighting at intersections for safer access on and off the highway.
A resident of the east side of the Trans-Canada Highway, Michael Tym, started building his dream home in the Aspen Road community but because of the new improvements, his family is now considering moving.
“We are terrified for what this means for us,” Tym said. “I’d be beside myself to leave this place, and it’s a nice community.”
Tym said the second southbound lane and barrier to help prevent head-on collisions are positive changes. But the addition of the barrier, blocks the east side community, many of whom are southbound commuters, forcing them to use the turnaround, which crosses two lanes of oncoming traffic.
Tym said the turnaround is notorious for northbound cars drifting into southbound traffic, noting there have been two deaths there, one prior to construction and one during the improvements. Tym said even the right turn onto the Malahat from Aspen Road is dangerous as there’s not enough room to speed up before merging.
Allen Anderson has lived in the east side neighbourhood for three years. He said the former south turn from Aspen Road had long sight lines in both directions. The previous turnaround, located 300 metres north of Aspen Road was also easier to see traffic coming in both directions, but with the new turnaround drivers have to cross two lanes of southbound traffic with limited visibility.
Anderson noted the east side Malahat community hired an engineering company to test the safety improvements of the Malahat.
“The sight lines fail the engineering specs if traffic is above 80-k, this was our argument all along which just fell on deaf ears,” Anderson said, noting “if traffic is going more than 80-k which is does 1,000 per cent of the time, you can’t judge the turn properly.”
After residents attended a public information session in November 2016, the community decided they needed to present their case to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
With the help of Mike Hicks, Juan de Fuca’s Electoral Area Director, the community met with the Ministry in December 2016, before construction started. The meeting was standing room only and Tym recalled a speech given by former Malahat Fire Chief Rob Patterson calling the overall design “appalling to our community.”
The Ministry didn’t make any changes to the design after the community unanimously opposed improvements to the Aspen Road intersection as its only highway access point. The community proposed a protected T intersection, similar to the one at Goldstream Park campground, or an underpass to eliminate the crossing, but Tym said the Ministry denied both suggestions because of the cost.
In June 2017, the Aspen Road community took the Ministry to court, requesting an injunction to prevent the changes being made until the safest design was determined and consulted with the residents.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said the project included procedure and consultation by the Malahat Advisory Group that included input from residents.
“After hearing from local residents, the Ministry agreed to have a third party perform an independent engineering review of the current design at Aspen Road. The independent review, completed in late 2017, supported the current design as the safer option compared to ‘protected T concept’ favoured by some residents,” said a statement from the Ministry.
“The right turn from Aspen Road now has an acceleration lane, added as part of this project, to allow sufficient distance for getting up to speed before merging into highway traffic.
The existing left hand turn off of the highway at Aspen Road is now safer with the addition of an improved left hand turn lane and median barrier division beside the two new southbound through lanes.
The new u-turn facility has been designed with appropriate engineering standards and is safe for all people travelling this highway, including those travelling from the east side of the highway.”
The judge dismissed the petition by the community because what they were requesting didn’t require the use of the courts as the design of the highway is the expertise of the Ministry, not of a court.
Tym said residents asked for a flashing light at the turnaround to caution drivers, but the request was denied.
The new turnaround is 850 metres north of Aspen Road, Anderson said at higher elevations “every foot counts up here in the winter time,” driving into snow and fog to turn around.
Anderson said he doesn’t want to leave the area as he has a view of Finalyson Arm and values his space, so he is “putting up with it.” As new developments crop up, and more people migrate up the Malahat, he said it will get busier and more dangerous to make that u-turn in the morning rush.