The West Coast is celebrating a long awaited milestone on Wednesday as the provincial government has announced Hwy. 4’s much maligned daytime closures will soon end.
“It’s going to be great that that’s done. It’s also going to of course be good for business and the travel on the highway that’s certainly been backed up for many years now, so it’s great news that it’s going in the right direction and we’re all very excited,” Tofino mayor Dan Law told the Westerly News.
“It’s wonderful news for everybody on the West Coast,” said Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel. “Obviously the biggest obstacle that that crew was having was the volume of rock over the highway and that obstacle has been overcome and you can see that the drilling crews are doing what they know best and they’re making some headway very quickly.”
The only road connecting the Tofino-Ucluelet region to the rest of Vancouver Island has been shut down in both directions from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. as part of the ministry of transportation’s $53.96 million Kennedy Hill improvement project, which began in 2018 and has since blown past its initial 2020 completion date.
“It’s been almost five years of delays and closures and that’s certainly had an affect, especially for locals who have to get out of town for medical appointments or other necessary trips. It’s been a constant delay. Everybody’s thinking about scheduling to get out of town and back again,” Law said. “The impact on business has been pretty clear. We still have tremendous visitation numbers, but it’s caused issues with scheduling and of course the amount of traffic on the road at times has had a large impact.”
The province said extended daytime closures will end on March 11, though commuters should still expect delays as single lane alternating traffic will flow at the top of the hour from 5 a.m.-11 p.m on weekdays.
Weekend traffic can expect single-lane alternating traffic from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. and top of the hour queue releases from 8-11 p.m. Nightly closures will take place from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., with a release to clear queued traffic at 2 a.m.
“This new schedule is designed to make trip planning easier for families, business owners, tour operators and other travellers, especially heading into spring break. On weekends, single-lane alternating traffic during the day will limit wait times for drivers to about 15 minutes,” the announcement states. “Once complete, the Highway 4 – Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement Project will create a safer, more reliable connection between Port Alberni and the west coast of Vancouver Island.”
The Kennedy Hill project involves a roughly 1.5-kilometre stretch of the highway, which required significant blasting work with over 150,000 cubic metres of rock removed so far.
“With this stage of the project completed, the contractor will shift focus to road alignment and grade lowering, which includes building support structures,” according to Wednesday’s announcement, which adds that the project is expected to be “substancially completed” by the summer of 2022.
“It was certainly a dangerous section. It was narrow with an extremely steep drop off and there’s been accidents and fatalities and that’s a concern, especially with the dramatic increase in traffic and industrial traffic,” Law said. “That road was not suitable for the amount of traffic and the type of traffic that we’re seeing. This was a really needed project. It’s going to make the road safer, wider, straighter. It’s a very good thing.”
Noel added that he is confident in the province’s timeline, though he acknowledged concerns have been raised throughout the project as expected completion dates have been pushed back.
“I’m confident with the schedule, their rationale all makes sense and they’re plugging ahead, so I have no reason not to trust them,” he said. “At the end of the day, people are always going to say what they have, including myself over the years, there’s been some upsets and some inconviencnes, but this is a big win for us on the Coast.”