Mere hours before crews began upgrades to the intersection of Sayward Road and the Pat Bay Highway, the province’s transportation minister stood at the dangerous corner to announce a $3 million plan to improve safety.
The first step, to start Wednesday night, involves the installation of a flashing congestion ahead sign on the highway south of Cordova Bay Road. The sign is expected to be up and running by the end of next week.
“This is (an intersection) that has affected many families in this area in not a very positive manner,” said Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom.
Pat Bay and Sayward is one of the most dangerous intersections in the province, having seen more than 338 crashes since 2007.
A community group was formed last year, involving local and provincial politicians, community members, B.C. Transit and the Ministry of Transportation, to come up with short- and medium-term solutions to the issues at the intersection. Those changes, supplied by the working group, are what Lekstrom announced.
If the changes proposed under the $3 million plan don’t accomplish safety and traffic improvements, Lekstrom said there’s a possibility that, more than a decade from now, a long-term solution like an interchange could be built there.
Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard says the message he’s hearing from his residents is an interchange isn’t wanted.
“The mayors on the (Saanich) peninsula have gone to the interchange idea, and our community really doesn’t want that here. So (transportation) ministers have used that divided voice to say, ‘We won’t do anything until you folks make up your minds.’ Fortunately the safety issue trumped everything,” Leonard said.
The congestion light is the only change travellers will see happen in 2012, Lekstrom said.
By spring of next year, a right-turning deceleration lane onto Sayward, a bus stop pullout south of Sayward, and a northbound acceleration lane from Sayward will be built. There will also be a transit priority queue lane installed.
Saanich South MLA Lana Popham, who sat on the working group, spoke to the News earlier this month she was expecting the changes to happen sooner.
“The reason why it need so to happen right now is the longer we wait, the more chance we’re going to see more accidents,” Popham said.
On Wednesday, the MLA said the announcement was “fantastic.”
“A lot of the discussion (at the working group) was around small changes that could possibly effect the safety record in a good way. And that meant using the money really effectively.”
Leonard says even with the improvements coming, he’ll continue to be a bug in Lekstrom’s ear about traffic problems on the Pat Bay.
“I worry about the rowing centre. Haliburton has some serious hits. … I’m not done on safety on this stretch of road, it’ll still be something I talk to ministers about,” he said.
Leonard added that the news of improvements is a welcome relief to him, as the intersection has been problematic since he was first elected in Saanich, in 1986.
This week’s installation of the congestion sign will require the closure of one northbound lane on the Pat Bay between the hours of 6:30 p.m. and 3 a.m.