It's 3:30 on a weekday afternoon and traffic is flowing freely at the turnoff to Victoria International Airport as a small army of construction workers puts the finishing touches on a $24-million overpass in the heart of Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn's riding.
An hour later on the other side of town, where residents have voted Liberal for three straight elections, gridlock sets in at the intersection of Mackenzie Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway, trapping thousands of commuters in the daily bottleneck known as the "Colwood Crawl."
The unofficial opening of the airport interchange this weekend will be a feather in the cap of Mr. Lunn, who lobbied hard to secure federal economic stimulus dollars for the project and is now running for his sixth straight term as MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.
But across town in Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, the absence of a similar project at the Mackenzie intersection has become a key election issue for Tory candidate Troy De Souza, who fell just 68 votes short of defeating long-time Liberal MP Keith Martin in 2008.
"Anyone who's been stuck in the Colwood Crawl knows that the time for talk is over and it's time for real action," Mr. De Souza's campaign materials state. "As your Member of Parliament, I would work with all levels of government to fix this problem."
However Mr. De Souza, who did not return calls for this story, is also battling the perception that the Harper government targeted stimulus dollars to Mr. Lunn's riding, while denying funding to Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca as punishment for electing an opposition MP.
"To me it's just a big political game that they put the interchange out by the airport, all because it's in Gary Lunn's riding," said Sooke resident Vicki Bennett, a regular commuter.
"I've never heard anyone identify there's a major problem at the airport intersection. We needed this way more in the Western Communities."
Under construction since December, 2009, the airport interchange received $10.5-million in federal economic stimulus money, with matching funding from B.C. and about $3-million from the Victoria Airport Authority.
Mr. Lunn, currently serving as Minister of State for Sport, noted that the government's Economic Action Plan was geared toward projects that could be completed by March 31, 2011.
The airport interchange qualified because it required no land transfers and had full support from the province and the airport authority, whereas the B.C. government was not prepared to move forward with the Mackenzie interchange, he said.
"I was hoping that we would do Mackenzie as well but there wasn't support from other levels of government," Mr. Lunn said. "The economic action plan was about getting shovels in the ground and getting people back to work right away."
Victoria Airport Authority Chair Christine Stoneman said airport board members have been working on the interchange project for six years and had "third-party" dollars to bring to the table.
"This was a really important project for us, so we stepped up to the plate right away," she said. "That was a big factor in moving forward."
Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who is running against Mr. Lunn, calls the airport overpass a "monstrosity" and slammed federal and provincial officials for failing to consult the community.
She also criticized Mr. De Souza for recent statements suggesting that the Mackenzie project would have been approved if voters have elected him three years ago.
"The message from the government is clear - if you want infrastructure, you have to vote Conservative," Ms. May said.
Local residents use words like "excessive" and "overkill" when asked about the project's complex web of on-ramps, access roads and landscaped roundabouts, complete with a towering, wheelchair accessible pedestrian overpass.
"It's way overdone for what was needed out here," said Tony Bobbitt, who works at a nearby nursery. "Mackenzie is the one they should have done, it's a nightmare."
B.C. Transport Ministry officials said last week the Mackenzie project is "a significant priority," but added that the interchange's final design depends on a regional transit study that won't be completed until the fall.
Special to The Globe and Mail