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Province must fund Malahat unit

A new traffic enforcement unit focused on the Malahat will cost, but promises to save lives.

It’s difficult to put a price on saving lives. That’s the choice we face, according to a new report that outlines the need for the province to fund a new traffic enforcement unit focused on the Malahat.

The short summit trip is a well-known commute for people who live on the Island. And while it is a stunning drive on a beautiful day it doesn’t take much for the pass to turn hellish.

The sheer volume of traffic that crosses the Malahat every day – an average of 22,000 vehicles and as many as 36,000 in the summer months – means that even an insignificant fender-bender can cause unreasonable delays. Appointments are missed and suppers go cold because there is no realistic alternative to this route.

Of the 58 collisions that happen on the Malahat on average every year, 75 per cent close the road.

Last April’s fuel spill, caused when a tanker truck driver lost control, kept some people away from their destination for 22 hours.

At its worst, the highway is a killer. The twists and cliff faces are unforgiving for anyone unfortunate enough to lose focus even for a moment. Every year, up to four people die on the road, while almost half of the annual collisions end up with someone in hospital.

Things improved last summer when a co-ordinated police effort lowered the number of collisions on the Malahat. More experience with such a strategy could only further improve the numbers, which makes us curious why this approach hasn’t been tried before.

Much has been said about the need for alternative routes. It always comes back to cost, whether to expand ferry service from Mill Bay to Brentwood or somehow widen the existing road.

Those discussions end up going nowhere fast, which is why it’s time to look at other options.

Let’s start with more year-round enforcement on the Malahat. Improving traffic flow, by regulating the roads and keeping bad drivers off them, is a sound alternative. A 15-member dedicated unit of officers from regional police departments, would cost an estimated $1 million annually.

That seems like a lot unless you’re talking to someone who have lost a loved one on the highway. The cost of a new unit is a pittance, given that more than eight million vehicles travel the road every year.