LETTER: Regional commuter rail system could pay for itself

A Colwood resident believes an LRT from downtown Victoria to the West Shore is a can't lose proposition.

The Aug. 3 Goldstream News Gazette doubled down on its attack on commuter rail for the CRD. The front page article is confusing, given that the ICF and the E&N lines represent sub-optimal (at best) options for commuter rail from the West Shore to Victoria, Saanich and Sidney.

Both fall back on the oft-used argument that any deviation from the conventional norm of bigger and wider single-passenger vehicle, fossil-fuel dependent highway infrastructure “better have a strong economic plan.”

I wonder what “bullet-proof economic plan” the McKenzie interchange has? At a cost of at least $85M, what return on investment do citizens in the West Shore hope to reap from this wonderful (and likely useless) interchange? How many big capital projects come in on budget in B.C.?

The business plan for the interchange is this: commuters on the West Shore are in for commuting hell starting this fall. They will bear the added cost of wasting their time in traffic jams heading into Victoria, across town to UVic or out to Sidney. It’s funny that our wasted time never seems to make it onto balance sheets of these “business plans.”

Commuters will bear the extra cost of filling their personal vehicles with gasoline at ever-volatile prices. Local businesses that need access to the roads during the day will bear the costs of having to wait longer as the construction drags on.

Once the project is completed, commuters will identify new and interesting bottlenecks in the system, such as Quadra Street and MacKenzie, Spencer Road, Millstream Road and the Six Mile mess in View Royal. Yes, while the interchange will alleviate some of the westbound traffic slowdowns from the downtown and UVic areas, it won’t take long until traffic piles up somewhere else.

The entire interchange is funded by taxpayers and will never directly remit a single cent to its costs (it is simply a road, after all). What a terrific business plan; get other people to pay for it.

Construction of a well-designed light rail transit commuter system, with logical stops beginning in Kettle Creek, through Westhills, but also from the Costco area, with connections in Colwood Corners, Royal Bay, into Victoria downtown, Cook Street Village, out to UVic and on to Sidney is a can’t lose proposition.

A properly planned system – one that does not necessarily use the existing rail network – would accommodate the inevitable growth of the West Shore regions while reducing traffic on the roadways. It has a cost-recovery mechanism built-in; the ridership.

Perhaps, with matching funding from the feds and the province, as is the case with the McKenzie interchange project, any added tax burdens to residents could be offset by an ownership stake in the system. Once profitable, the LRT could even pay dividends to the original investors – all of us who chip in.

That’s not to mention the costs savings in peoples’ time not driving (or idling) into Victoria in personal or commercial vehicles and the litany of hidden expenses that go along. As well, the LRT should be made with Canadian manufactured steel and cars and installed by local workers.

We’re way overdue to start thinking of alternatives to car commuting, other than building bigger, wider roads. If the E&N bureaucracy is impeding the conversation on LRT development, it should be shelved. But if it is willing to play a positive role, then it would be welcome as a stakeholder.

Eric NeilsonColwood

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