Travellers headed to and from Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim will need to adapt to a new closure schedule soon.
And many of them aren’t happy about it.
Concerns expressed by residents of the Tofino-Ucluelet area about the closure schedule announced on June 25 by project Emil Anderson Construction Inc. (EAC), have prompted the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce (TLBCC) to formally request that the Ministry of Transport either postpone or shift the schedule to a less busy time.
From Tuesday, July 6 to Friday, Aug. 6, Highway 4, between Port Alberni and the Tofino-Ucluelet junction will be closed from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. due to ongoing construction. The scheduled closures exclude Saturdays and the B.C. Day long weekend from July 30 to Aug. 3.
“Someone coming from Vancouver would have to be on a 3 p.m. ferry in order to make it,” said TLBCC executive director Jen Dart.
“We have guests arriving that have ferry and other reservations booked who will be unable to reschedule at this late date. One week’s notice is simply insufficient to reschedule or shift the volume of these reservations. Many of these visitors will be stranded, unable to make it through to the West Coast before this closure,” said Dart in an email.
She also said that the time-frame is extremely problematic for locals returning home after medical appointments or other travel.
“Last year the project heads and contractor made allowances for the busy summertime travel to the west coast and we are calling on them to do the same this year. This closure time frame simply does not work for the residents and businesses of the west coast. This is also the worst possible timing, as businesses are just opening up again after COVID-19 travel restrictions and desperately need to make up for lost time this summer.”
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says they are aware of the high traveller volume to the West Coast during the summer, but the 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. closure is considered the best project window to limit disruptions while ensuring safe operations.
“We’ve heard that daytime blasting closures, albeit necessary for safety reasons, have been disruptive. In response, through the summer months, we’ve pushed these blasting closures as late in the day as possible, at 8 p.m., in order to undertake the blasts during the last hours of summer daylight at the start of the closure when the blasts occur,” reads an email from the ministry.
“Shifting to later, such as 9 or 10 p.m., would mean that workers lose daylight which is needed for critical safety assessment immediately post blast.”
Evening daylight will help the rock scalers in identifying unstable rocks and boulders that resulted from the blast and pose a risk to highway users below the rock face, the ministry says. The scalers work to take down any instabilities and remove the blast debris during the balance of the closure window.
“Until the rock faces are safety scaled, the road cannot re-open to traffic. With the re-opening at 2 a.m., this still allows for nighttime travel of commercial vehicles,” notes the ministry.
Regular updates and information will also be posted on EAC Hwy 4 Kennedy Hill Project Updates Facebook page and DriveBC.ca. There is also a traffic advisory hotline:
“We apologize for any inconveniences as a result of this project, but hope you understand that we are working towards a safer highway for all of us,” reads the June 25 traffic update from EAC.
During the day time, motorists are being advised to arrive at the top of every hour, and to expect minor delays.
The project is now expected to be completed in summer 2022, and is currently approximately 75 per cent complete, according the ministry. The budget for the roughly 1.5-km improvement project has been increased to $53.96 million from $38.1 million and includes $13.5 million in federal funding under the New Building Canada Fund.
Further project information is available on the Ministry’s Kennedy Hill Safety Improvements website at: gov.bc.ca/highway4kennedyhill.