A number of alternatives to the notorious Malahat have been floated for quite some time and the province is taking a hard look at an emergency route when the Malahat is closed.

The provincial government announced its southern Vancouver Island transportation strategy earlier this week and the Ministry of Transportation is going to conduct a feasibility study into costs, risks and environmental concerns associated with building an emergency route when the Malahat is closed.

Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean said the feasibility study is in its infancy.

“We’re just starting that, we’re engaged with the Capital Regional District and with Indigenous groups and with stakeholders to actually look at having a feasibility study done,” said Dean. “To have a look at what alternatives might be available, so that we’ve got a temporary alternative route for when the Malahat is shut down when there is an accident.”

One of the ideas is to run the emergency route through the Sooke Hills up to Shawnigan Lake and Cowichan Valley Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau said local residents know the negative consequences that go with not having an alternative to the Malahat.

“For a lot of people who live in Shawnigan Lake, when that highway gets closed, it creates an enormous problem. The other day there was an accident around Leigh Road and we got caught in a significant detour,” said Furstenau. “It was the time of day that kids were coming home on the school buses. The realities of the impacts of that for the families and the people that live in Shawnigan and the Cowichan Valley generally can be quite severe.”

Dean said it’s important to find a solution to the Malahat because the lengthy closures significantly impact travellers.

“Hopefully we can come up with some kind of solution so that when the Malahat gets shut down with another bad accident, people aren’t left in gridlock and stuck there and worried about whether they’re going to be able to pick up their kids at the end of the day, or whether they’ve got enough medication and worrying about the medical appointments their missing or the flights they’re missing,” said Dean.

One idea is to run the emergency route through the Sooke Hills up to Shawnigan Lake, and Furstenau said getting home is hugely concerning when sitting behind an accident on the Malahat.

“This would not be a route that would be used daily, it would only be in emergencies, only at a time when the highway has a serious closure,” said Furstenau. “Ideally, the impacts would be minimal but, at the same time, being able to get home is a real concern for people when that highway does have an accident.”

Some other alternatives to the Malahat include recommissioning the E&N rail line, building a bridge over the Finlayson Arm portion of the Saanich Inlet, or running a ferry between Cowichan Bay and Sidney.