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Booming population in West Shore threatens to worsen traffic snarls

Feb 10 2012

Traffic nightmares on key commuter routes between Greater Victoria municipalities will get worse with rapidly growing West Shore communities expected to see further population jumps in the next five years.

Mayors from at least two West Shore communities expect their ballooning populations to continue increasing at rates similar to those confirmed by census data released Wednesday.

Five communities in the West Shore accounted for 75 per cent of all population growth in metropolitan Victoria. Langford led the way, with its population increasing to 29,228, a 30 per cent jump since 2006. Mayor Stew Young expects and wants more growth.

His council plans for population to increase between four and six per cent a year for the next five years, which is on par with census figures that showed Langford as the fastest-growing municipality in B.C.

Sooke saw an increase of 17 per cent in the same period, the second highest in Greater Victoria. Sooke Mayor Wendal Milne expects continued annual growth between 2.5 and three per cent.

Growth on that scale requires strategies to cope with traffic congestion, according to planners at the Capital Regional District.

"If this trend continues, there needs to be a broader regional transportation solution," said Margaret Misek-Evans, senior manager in the CRD regional planning department.

Traffic along commuter corridors has increased in the past five years, which is obvious to those making the trek from the West Shore every day. The congestion is confirmed by traffic numbers from the B.C. Ministry of Transportation.

The number of vehicles travelling from the West Shore along the Trans-Canada Highway on weekdays increased by 11 per cent between 2005 and 2010. Averaged over a year, the total numbers of vehicles reached 84,465 in 2010, according to the data released by the CRD.

Sooke Road saw the same 11 per cent increase with weekday travel reaching 14,365 vehicles.

Colwood is also making strides with its growth. Its population reached 14,687 in 2011, climbing by 9.6 per cent since 2006.

Those figures could continue to grow, with projects like the $1-billion Capital City Centre to be built out over 14 acres.

Growth in Sooke will be slightly tempered, according to Milne, though the projected numbers are just slightly lower than actual growth.

"The trouble with growth is the cost that comes with it and sometimes you can have a difficult time keeping up with it," he said. "Growth is good, but it's got to be slow and steady."

Langford has increased residential property taxes by three to five per cent since 1993. That stability, matched by its business-friendly policies, is a significant part of the city's success in achieving the population growth rates set by council.

"It provides a fixed cost for homeowners who need to take that into consideration when looking at paying their mortgages," said chief administrator Jim Bowden.

Without additional taxes from residents and the demand for increased services, the council will need to continue its success of attracting new businesses and encouraging more development.

The council has already laid the groundwork, creating enough zoned land for the next wave of 25,000 people, Bowden said. Sooke staff estimate new developments either on the books or in planning stages will create homes for between 7,000 and 8,000 residents.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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