Highway 4 at Cameron Bluffs partially reopened to traffic Wednesday after strong winds and a crane malfunction forced the road to stay fully closed overnight.
Around noon Tuesday, DriveBC said the stretch of highway — the only paved route to the west Vancouver Island communities of Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet — was fully closed due to winds gusting more than 50 km/h.
Stranded commuters like senior Eva Major had to sleep, or attempt to sleep, in their vehicles as winds played havoc.
“Well, I didn’t sleep at all. I have arthritis and I have lots of pain. There’s no question about it,” Majors told CHEK News. “Otherwise, I’m fed up and disappointed that things are taking so long.”
Robert McArthur found himself in the same predicament.
“I’ve got four daughters here and they kept telling me, ‘Get a hotel room! Get a hotel room!’ I said, ‘I think I can make it.’ But I should have listened,” he recalled.
Happening Now. #Hwy4 has just reopened to alternating traffic at #CameronLake after a lengthy closure since yesterday afternoon due to high winds and an “unexpected problem.”
@CHEK_News #PortAlberni #Tofino #Ucluelet pic.twitter.com/X19lsPPToh
— Dean Stoltz (@deanstoltzchek) July 26, 2023
In an update around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, DriveBC said an overnight closure was needed due to an “unexpected issue on-site,” and by Wednesday morning it said crews were working to repair a crane holding netting that shields the road from falling rocks.
“If we have white caps on the lake, that’s usually when they’ll shut it down. So, it was windy yesterday,” said Sandra Verheyen, who has a cabin at Cameron Lake.
Construction crews are busy repairing damage caused by a now under-control 229 hectares wildfire at the bluffs that closed the highway for weeks in June.
“When winds reach a certain threshold, we actually need to lower the cranes that we have on site,” said Janelle Staite, B.C.’s Ministry and Transportation and Infrastructure deputy director.
“So we lowered the crane, at which point we had to close the highway. When we looked to raise the crane again … the hydraulics were not functioning. It was a mechanical problem with the crane that had to be addressed overnight.”
Straite expected crane repairs would wrap up by 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, allowing the highway to partially reopen to traffic with usual daytime closures temporarily nixed.
“We won’t do any closures today on the highway,” she said in an interview.
⛔UPDATE #BCHwy4 – The estimated opening time and next update is approximately 11:30am today at Cameron Lake.
Scheduled closures will resume tomorrow.
ℹ️ Updates: https://t.co/KL3tJ3jkwJ
ℹ️ Additional info: https://t.co/4XLlNzpl82
#Tofino #Uclulet #PortAlberni #Nanaimo #VanIsle
— DriveBC VI (@DriveBC_VI) July 26, 2023
The ministry says starting Thursday, the daily closures will resume from 9-11:30 a.m. and from 1:30-5 p.m. for rock-scaling work. Single-lane westbound traffic can pass through between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., while single-lane eastbound traffic can move from 12:30-1:30 p.m.
The highway should fully reopen next month.
“We’re still looking at mid-August. Again, setbacks like yesterday … do potentially set up back a little bit,” added Straite.
“But again, we understand the priority of continuing to focus in this area and the desire to see that highway fully reopened in a timely manner.”
A detour is also in place, taking commuters from Lake Cowichan, through Youbou to Port Alberni and vice versa, though the province notes this unpaved route takes about four hours with no cell coverage and limited amenities like food and fuel.