Although people in Port Alberni have gotten used to seeing Christmas lights strung up across the bottom of Johnston Road every year, the lights will not be making an appearance in 2023.
The province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) has “expressed concern” with the lights going up across Johnston Road, which is a provincial highway (Highway 4), says city CAO Mike Fox.
“[They] said it was in direct contravention of some of their policies,” Fox explained during a city council meeting on Monday, Nov. 27.
Although the city was able to put lights up on trees along Johnston Road, they weren’t able to install the decorations that hang over and across the highway, many of which were designed by local high school students. Fox said that staff are “looking at different options” to put the lights up either on Johnston Road or in other areas of town for 2024.
“It is a highway, so they have policies we are supposed to follow on their highways,” said Fox. “Other roads within the municipality, we look after them and we maintain them so we have control over them.”
Councillor Cindy Solda expressed disappointment with the decision, although she acknowledged it is a provincial highway.
“It’s just really disappointing when you look at other communities,” said Solda. “I don’t agree with it, and neither will the public agree with it.”
A spokesperson for the MOTI said the city is welcome to hang festive lights throughout the city, so long as they meet mandatory clearances to ensure the safety of the public and the flow of traffic, including vehicles with tall loads. The ministry requires permits for hanging lights across any provincial highway
“We have invited the city to apply for the necessary permit,” a ministry spokesperson said. “Our office has not yet received an application, but we look forward to reviewing it promptly.”
However, Fox says it may not be as simple as just applying for a permit.
“The main concern is the height of the lights,” he said. “The city would either need to make changes to the current cabling or change location.”
Fox added that the city is working on a plan that will likely involve community input.
“We hope to have lights back up on Johnston or another location next year,” he said.