During rush hour in Greater Victoria, no vehicle is rushing anywhere.

Gridlock is often a way of life for drivers in Greater Victoria and that’s why the region’s 13 mayors are united in calling on the province for help.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said it’s time to get moving on a plan to revive the E&N rail service and the rapid bus lane project between Langford and Victoria.

“We’re calling on the province and we’re standing with the province, 13 mayors united. To support the minister and the premier in getting the buses going and the trains going,” Helps said.

In a letter to Premier John Horgan and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena, the mayors stated they want to the train running on the E&N tracks between Langford and Victoria immediately.

View Royal Mayor, David Screech said there is enough study to go ahead with the E&N commuter rail service and completion of the Bus Rapid Transit lanes to the West Shore.

“We’ve been waiting years and years and years and years for a commitment on rail funding. And the corridor is there. It’s a publicly owned asset, and it’s time to get on with it,” Screech said.

Earlier this year, the province announced a sweeping study of the south Island’s transportation issue, and the growing congestion.  But the 13 mayors there have been enough studies.

Langford Mayor Stewart Young said the province needs to fund the region’s commuter demands in this month’s provincial budget.

“If you don’t have it in the budget in February, then we’re wasting everybody’s time again. And it’s another two or three years out. And I don’t want to see that,” Young said.

In a statement, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena appeared to pour cold water on the mayor’s expectations:

“I understand people’s frustration when they get stuck in gridlock, whether for work, appointments or simply trying to get home.  

The E&N tracks are sitting unused. Passenger rail service on Vancouver Island was discontinued under the former government’s watch, and they failed to get service reinstated.

We are working to find the best use of the corridor, which is owned by the Island Corridor Foundation, so people have another way to get where they need to go.

This is no simple undertaking and it comes with many challenges. The tracks have been sitting unused for years, which means they will require significant upgrades. Any solution will require cooperation and respectful dialogue between communities along the route, First Nations, the ICF and the Province. 

The letter from the 13 mayors acknowledges the importance of ensuring that the process puts reconciliation top of mind. Partnership with First Nations is key to this work and must be in line with government’s commitment to UNDRIP. It’s crucial that the ICF, as the owner of the line, engages in consultation with Indigenous governments.

Before decisions are made around investing significant public dollars along the E&N corridor, an up-to-date and in-depth track and bridge assessment is necessary. This includes the cost of imperative safety work, including a seismic risk assessment and rock fall review to ensure any passenger rail service meets current day safety standards. This work is happening. The ministry anticipates the assessment to take six months.

We are also undertaking a South Island Transportation Strategy, which will lead to a comprehensive plan for the whole region.”

And that may push any decision on commuter rail and bus lanes back several years.

Mary Griffin