A speed-hump stand-off

The narrow roads of Kilby have seen increasing amounts of speeding tourist traffic, but the province and the District of Kent each want the other to pay to slow the cars down

A provincial campground’s increased popularity has brought a surge of traffic to local roads in Harrison Mills and triggered a stand-off between the local council and Victoria over who should pay to slow the cars down.

A stand-off over five speed humps on a rural stretch of road doesn’t sound like much of a stand-off.

But a stand-off in Kilby has its own challenges—not least of which are stakes that seem so low as to make compromise improbable between governments with bigger things to do.

Dangling into Harrison Bay at the nose of a low-lying peninsula, the historic community of Kilby and its waterfront provincial park have long attracted tourists and locals from around southwestern British Columbia.

The spectacular site is perfect for anglers, boaters, and history-lovers—and packed to the gills in the summer. In recent years, the campground has been expanded, and that—combined with the recreation boom seen at parks throughout the province—has brought more visitors to the area. And many of those folks, locals say, arrive at the park after blasting down the narrow local roads at dangerous speeds.

A local group—Kilby Block Watch—first asked the District of Kent for speed bumps to be added to the neighbourhood seven years ago, but their request was denied, with local officials expressing concern about response times for first responders. Last September, the group made a second request, accompanied by both a petition and a letter from the Kilby Historic Site

The 2023 request drew a more-positive local response—but also sparked a jurisdictional game of hot potato over which level of government should bear the cost of slowing the speeding campers.

The letters

In most cases, a call to quell local traffic is clearly the responsibility of the municipality, so long as the road in question isn’t a provincial highway.

But the District of Kent has now written the provincial government twice, saying Victoria should cover the cost of dealing with traffic resulting from the growth of Kilby Park. And both times, the province has responded by saying it’s the municipality’s job, not Victoria’s.

Kent’s argument is simple: the province caused the problem, so it should pay to fix it. Kent’s mayor Sylvia Pranger said an increase in the number of RV sites, improvements to the day use area, and a new covered picnic shelter has “fostered an increase in both domestic and tourism traffic.”

She wrote that “these newly attracted motorists are creating dangerous conditions for the existing residents of the community, including vulnerable children and seniors residing in Kilby.”

She asked the province to pay “in good faith” to add speed bumps and signage to reduce the speed of motorists.

The responses

To Kent’s first request, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heymen responded with a brief letter saying, in short: it’s not our job. Heyman wrote that the four suggested traffic-calming measures would all be located on Kilby Road, outside of BC Parks’ jurisdiction. That makes them the responsibility of the municipality.

That response didn’t appease Kent and in February, Pranger wrote a second letter, again saying that the cost of the necessary work should be borne by the province.

“We insist, Premier Eby, that the traffic increase is entirely due to visitors to the Provincial Park and not from our residents,” she wrote. Later, she said the District “does not have the funding to address provincial infrastructure,” and that its current spending “focus is to try to provide affordable housing which we are struggling with.”

Two weeks later, Heyman responded. Again, he said that BC Parks had no jurisdiction over the Kent roads, adding that its budget is confined to activities within its park boundaries. Heyman again said any cost would have to be borne by the District, though provincial officials could consider adding signage along nearby Highway 7 to encourage drivers to slow down.

What they’re really saying

Behind the back-and-forth letters, the issue hints at the complex—and often informal—relationship between provincial and municipal governments.

Kent is relying on a fundamental principle that underlies almost all developments in BC—except campgrounds. When municipalities approve denser zoning for properties, they generally seek to extract contributions from developers to pay for the costs of accommodating more use of infrastructure. The idea is that the owners of properties that profit from development should bear the additional cost those developments impose on local infrastructure.

When the province added campsites to Kilby Park, it didn’t have to seek rezoning for the property nor pay an infrastructure development fee. But Pranger is suggesting that just because the rules didn’t force it to compensate Kent doesn’t exempt the province from moral responsibility to help pay for the consequences of the improvements.

At the same time, Kent isn’t exactly broke. As of the end of 2022, the municipality had more than $135 million in net financial assets (though it also operated with a small surplus and has set aside millions to pay for a new aquatic centre).

In its letters, meanwhile, the province is sticking by its general policy of only paying for work on provincially run roads. It has some cause to not want to bend, even if it has the power to do so relatively easily.

The province operates hundreds of campgrounds and many are accessed through small neighbourhood roads. Each ministry jealously guards its budget, and neither BC Parks nor any other agency will want to draw a line suggesting the province is willing to upgrade local infrastructure every time it improves a campsite. Kent might be talking about just five speed humps and a handful of signs, but the province won’t want to set a precedent that causes more municipalities to come begging.

At the same time, governments pay for things outside of their jurisdiction all the time. Not too long ago, the provincial and federal governments gave the City of Chilliwack millions to build a bridge over the Vedder River to reduce traffic congestion on the route to Cultus Lake—and the provincial park located there. The province also outright owns some roads that aren’t really highways in any conventional sense. Most obviously, the province owns Rockwell Drive, which provides access to Sasquatch Provincial Park. And while BC Parks might not have a pot of money designated for helping with road improvements near its facilities, the province is more than capable of allocating money from various one-off funding programs for whatever it sees fit.

The small-scale and low stakes of the road work Kilby needs could make a creative solution possible. But it could also be an obstacle to co-operation, with the province potentially reluctant to spend time or effort on a problem that is a budgetary rounding error and something that Kent could pay for, if it really wanted to.

Kent council was set to address the matter Monday evening at its regular meeting. As it is, another camping season approaches, and the speed of traffic in Kilby might end up depending on whether Kent or the province decides it’s easier to just pay for a few speed humps.

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