With the Highway 19A upgrade fully entrenched in our list of things to complain about, I’d like to point out how much I like it.
With that stretch of the Old Island Highway upgraded, we’ve just got one remaining gap in the road before a big stretch of our waterfront has been converted from an eyesore to a showcase of our waterfront. Or maybe that should be a showcase worthy of our waterfront.
There’s a reason why the Seawalk between Hidden Harbour and Ken Forde Park is so popular – it stretches along as spectacular a waterfront vista as you’ll find anywhere. On a clear day in winter it’s hard to keep your eyes off the deep blue waters of Discovery Passage and the northern Strait of Georgia, backed by the verdant islands and mountainsides capped with snow white peaks. For the longest time that spectacular vista was underlined by a rundown old two-lane highway that was a veritable deathtrap.
Campbell River’s waterfront was once described by – I believe it was a Lonely Planet guide to the city – as having an entrance to the community that was a virtual goat trail lined with shoddy trailer parks, potholes and gravel shoulders. I’ve paraphrased it here but It was a pretty embarrassing description when it came out in the 1990s. But it was true.
Since then, the city has made use of federal and provincial monies – as well as local tax dollars – to upgrade that stretch of roadway that was dumped on us by the province without any money to upgrade it to municipal standards. The province had just built the Inland Island Highway and was obviously not going to give this community any more money, even though that crappy stretch of road, now technically a city street, was substandard. It was up to Campbell River taxpayers to pay for the upgrades, the province made abundantly clear.
Since then, the city has applied for and secured federal and provincial instrastructure grants to fund the upgrade. The first section was the $13.25 million mile between Hilchey Road and Forberg Road that was completed in 2011 with senior governments (Ottawa and Victoria) ponying up two-thirds of it to upgrade the old highway in Willow Point. And it looks great. But that was only part of the job.
The feds then made more money available in another infrastructure plan. The city applied and was approved for $6.43 million out of a total $13.4 million and then the Willow Point to the Big Rock boat ramp stretch got the latest upgrade.
And a roundabout.
The roundabout was a solution to the Rockland Road intersection. The other option was a traffic light or a stop sign but anybody who tries to turn left onto the Old Island Highway further south will tell you a stop sign controlled intersection is an exercise in exasperation.
So, a roundabout was decided upon and now many people complain that it was a waste of money. Something had to go there and people are having a hard time accepting this but a roundabout is more effective in moving traffic (Google it) and less expensive than a traffic light (ditto).
Half of the money for that whole project came from the federal government and it wouldn’t have gone ahead without it. If Campbell River didn’t get that money, then Aylmer, Quebec or Thompson, Manitoba or Somewhere Else would have. And we would still have a two-lane, gravel-shouldered eyesore in front of our gorgeous waterfront. How’s that for instilling civic pride?
Everybody demands the city do something to fix the economy – even though that’s a federal and provincial responsibility – then castigates it for investing in our infrastructure – like a well-groomed, attractive waterfront. Having a spectacular, pedestrian-access waterfront with benches and parking and a view to die for is not just a great benefit for residents but also attracts tourists. We should be marketing that waterfront not complaining about it. (It completes a vision of cleaning up our waterfront that begun with former mayor Bob Ostler pushing for the Seawalk)
Next, we have to fix up the remaining stretch from the boat ramp to Hidden Harbour. Then we’ll have a waterfront feature that will be the envy of other communities.
Visitors are already amazed by how lucky we are to live right on the ocean with such a view. Cities all over the country – the world – invest in their public spaces to make them attractive to visitors, efficient in delivering services and a source of enjoyment to their residents. It’s what our tax dollars are for.
If we didn’t, we’d be left with a junky little strip of potholed pavement and gravel that warrants a mocking description in international travel guides.
If you’re interested in responding to this commentary, feel free to email a reasoned, rational and respectfully-worded reply to email@example.com and I’ll run them in the Letters to the Editor online and in print.