Les Leyne: Harsh gas-price lab experiment gets paved over

Les Leyne mugshot genericHighway 14 to Sooke could have been a harsh, cruel, yet interesting laboratory experiment into the impacts of record high gas prices.

Premier John Horgan, however, couldn’t resist showing his constituents some love. So he popped up at a roadside Tuesday with an $85-million package of road improvements over the next two or three years.

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They’ll be warmly welcomed by anyone who drives the highway. The road will be safer. It will be more convenient. The average drive time of 33 minutes from west of Sooke to the Millstream interchange will be reduced slightly.

But the improvements interfere with the premise of the experiment. Not that it ever had a chance. Roads are built by political governments, not in laboratories.

The highway is a classic example of inefficient road use the world over.

The government’s own findings in the consultation leading up to the announcement were that 56 per cent of drivers use it mostly to commute to work from the Sooke region into the West Shore and downtown. That means they go to exactly the same destination, day in and day out.

Within that group, the engagement survey also found that 78 per cent of those commuters drive alone in their personal vehicles.

Maintaining the system as is and inflicting huge gas-price hikes on those souls would have been a classic opportunity to learn what it takes to get people into car pools or onto buses.

But it’s impossible to picture a premier in a white lab coat treating his own constituents like lab rats, studying how much punishment it takes to get them to do what the experts want.

So there will be years more roadwork in the region that will contribute to making driving (usually alone) the default option.

The main piece of the work is a 1.5-kilometre realignment between Connie Road and Glinz Lake Road, behind the 17 Mile House Pub.

It will fix a difficult intersection at Gillespie Road, include a park and ride spot, and turn a winding section into a four-lane stretch with median.

Included in the budget is nine kilometres of shoulder widening from west of Sooke to French Beach Provincial Park. That’s a safety measure, which scored high on engagement surveys, and will also be popular with cyclists.

An additional $14 million is earmarked for road improvements on the Trans-Canada Highway south of Goldstream Park, where two recent fatalities prompted widespread concern.

The government has been doing specific jobs on the highway to Sooke for more than a year. Tuesday’s work schedule is the biggest piece yet, and Horgan said there will be talk of other phases later.

He noted in passing that bids just closed on the big integrated transportation plan for the entire south Island that Transportation Minister Claire Trevena ordered last year.

That ambitious project is notable for the fact that the regional district did essentially the same thing six years ago. It’s odd to commit to the Sooke Road work without knowing how all the other priorities get listed.

But again, we live in a political world, not a laboratory.

Just So You Know: Horgan’s recent musings about doing something regarding gas prices seem to have been parked.

Asked several times about runaway price hikes, Horgan insisted it wasn’t the fault of the carbon tax, even to someone driving by who yelled at him about it. He took pains to say his pipeline objections don’t have anything to do with the gas prices. “You can’t put diluted bitumen in your pickup truck.”

He also said government regulation of gas prices doesn’t work.

Then he handed the whole issue over to the federal government, saying the consumer-protection branch should step in and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government should do more to show it cares.

That’s a bit of a retreat from his earlier stance that he’d monitor prices over the summer and then step in if the price doesn’t ease. The price has gone up since those remarks. But Horgan said Tuesday that government intervention, as in the Maritimes, doesn’t have a material impact.

“It’s a supply-and-demand issue.”

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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