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West Shore to downtown ferry pushed

Jun 08 2012

A foot-passenger ferry between Colwood and downtown Victoria is once again proposed as a solution to the West Shore's commuter traffic congestion.

The WestShore Chamber of Commerce announced Thursday it will oversee a marketing study to measure public-and private-sector interest in the service.

There could be a need for a 300-passenger vessel to shuttle about 1,000 people daily in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, say proponents, and those traffic numbers would increase as the West Shore communities continue to grow.

Staff at Victoria-based Black Ball Ferry Line, which operates the Coho ferry between Victoria and Port Angeles, and the faculty of management at Royal Roads University will conduct the latest study. Researchers say a viable service could reduce commuter traffic, decrease carbon emissions and increase tourism to the West Shore.

"At this point, it's too early to tell if it will be feasible or not, but it makes sense to have more than one solution to the traffic problems," said Black Ball Ferry Line president Ryan Burles.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin praised the initiative, saying there are "a whole lot of win-wins" if it's economically viable. As a Victoria Regional Transit Commission member, Fortin would like to see transit work with any potential service to make travel seamless for passengers arriving in the downtown.

Foot-ferry service has been pitched by several proponents in recent years. The impetus for its latest resurrection was the recent sale of a former gravel pit in Colwood.

B.C. Investment Management Corp. bought the 170-hectare Royal Bay property from Lehigh Heidelberg Ltd. in early May. The site is already zoned for a mixed-use design, allowing 2,800 homes and a village centre with shops, offices and restaurants.

More than a year ago, Victoria-based Crown Marine Management Ltd. proposed building a marina near the site in partnership with a previous potential buyer. The group still has interest in a similar project with the new owner.

Marina construction would contribute to building the infrastructure required for a commuter ferry service, according to Anthony Utley, a partner in the marine management group.

"If you buy a house in the West Shore and work in town, it's going to be an attractive option even if you only use it 80 per cent of the time," he said.

Researchers plan to approach the municipal, provincial and federal governments to gauge their interest because any successful service would likely require a public-private partnership.

"It's something that would have to be subsidized in some way," said Burles.

"You're taking cars off the roads, so there is a huge benefit to quality of life."

Sea conditions are a concern. The proposed route would shuttle people along the mouth of Esquimalt Harbour and into Victoria. That part of the strait can see waves as high as two metres, say Canadian Coast Guard staff.

Burles recognizes there will likely be days when the vessel will have to stay docked.

"There needs to be a backup plan," he said. "We need to find out how often there are sea states where you can't run."

Utley suggests the desire to get hundreds of vehicles off the road would far outweigh the dozen or so days the service might be cancelled.

The West Shore's population is expected to increase, making it "imperative" to find "ways of removing more cars from our already congested roads," said chamber president Stephen Whipp.

He expects the report by the end of the year.


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