‘It’s going to be really difficult’: Truckers, tourism operators worried about Highway 4 closures

'It's going to be really difficult': Truckers, tourism operators worried about Highway 4 closures

Getting through the section of one lane alternating traffic on Highway 4 at Cameron Lake where a wildfire burned last month is already a patience-testing commute with waits lasting over two hours.

However, slope stabilization work starting Monday is likely to leave travelers and truckers even more frustrated.

The highway will be closed at Cameron Lake between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. except for one opening between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

For the trucking industry, this is another major blow.

“Well it’s going to be really difficult because many of these trucks are making two and three trips a day,” said Joe Spears, SAN Terminals General Manager in Port Alberni.

Upwards of 150 trucks use the highway any given day including dozens of trips by Port Alberni’s San Group.

“It varies but we have 45-50 trucks at least a day and then the supplies coming in and the cedar chips that are used at the Crofton mill, that’s dependent on that so there’s a lot of integral pieces moving here,” Spears said.

On the west coast, Tofino and Ucluelet saw a $44 million hit during the three-week highway closure in June so tourism operators there have asked Rob Flemming, minister of transportation and infrastructure to extend the two-hour daily window to four hours.

“To allow guests leaving the west coast to be able to make sure they get through but I have been told they’ll be watching it closely the minute it closes to see where the pinch points are and they would make adjustments if needed,” said JJ Belanger of Crystal Cove Resort in Tofino.

The highway will be open to alternating traffic between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. and all day Saturday and Sunday.

“The tourism sector we know will have a hit from this and people will hopefully change their plans rather than cancel their plans, that’s certainly what we’re optimistic for but we know it will have an impact,” said Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions.

The latest closure once again has everyone talking about an alternative route for the short and long term.

“From my perspective, what we desperately need is an alternative road that adds a short amount of time that can be activated quickly,” added Minions.

“We know that there are options available however they come with some challenges so our push to the province is going to be let’s address those challenges now so that in the fall if there are additional closures we have a ready to go route that works.”

The repeated closures are having an impact on workers that rely on the highway every day.

“We need alternative routes, we need to enhance our port and there doesn’t seem to be any interest at any level at what we’re doing here. We’re working to keep 3,000 employed. This is a big deal,” said Spears.

In a statement, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says the work is critical to the long-term safety of the corridor.

“A geotechnical assessment of the bluff has determined rock scaling is required before the highway can be safely reopened to two-way traffic at Cameron Lake Bluffs,” the statement said. “This work will involve removing loose rocks above the highway. While this work is underway, the highway must be closed to keep crews and travellers safe from rockfall hazards.”

A ministry official told CHEK News that longer openings for traffic during the day would delay completion of the work and potentially push it into the rainy season.

The work is expected to be completed by mid-August.

“This is a crucial step to ensure Highway 4 can fully reopen as soon as possible, end single-lane-alternating traffic, and keep goods and people moving into our western communities,” said Fleming.

“We know this has been a challenging time for businesses and the tourism sector on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and we thank people for their patience as we work as quickly as possible to get this main corridor safely operating at full capacity again.”

Last month, when the ministry announced it’s timeline to reopen the highway the plan did not include daytime closures, but instead full reopening mid-July.

As Rob Shaw explains, this change came after crews working to repair the highway found more work that needed to be done in order to make the road safe.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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