Malahat rock slide blocks traffic Sunday, renewing calls for alternate route

WatchTraffic was once again brought to a halt on the Malahat highway Sunday after heavy rain caused a small rock slide. Now some are once again calling for an alternate route. April Lawrence reports.

Some sizeable rocks came crashing down onto the northbound lane of the Malahat highway Sunday morning.

“It was lucky that nobody was there because it did come down across the travel lane,” said Emcon Services South Island Operations Manager Andrew Gaetz.

But Gaetz says the netting installed on the rock face did exactly what it was supposed to.

“The rock fences contain it so it should not hit your windshield, but it will slide out from the bottom of the rock fences,” he said.

“B.C. is a mountainous terrain and we build roads around the mountains and through the mountains but rocks are going to always come down and they put up things like rock fences to contain that, and put up warning signs in rockfall areas,” said Gaetz.

While no one was hurt, northbound traffic was shut down for three hours. Emcon had to clean up the 25 cubic meters of rock and a geotechnical engineer assessed the safety of the rock face.

“We try and move as quickly and efficiently as we can, just have to keep that in mind when you’re sitting in the traffic lineup,” said Gaetz.

But sitting in that lineup has become all too familiar to south Island drivers. While there have been safety improvements on the Malahat to try to reduce the number of crashes, rock slides have become an annual event.

In September 2018 a massive boulder came crashing down after heavy rainfall, damaging a truck and shutting the highway down in both directions for several hours. And in December 2017 a rock slide shut down southbound traffic near Goldstream Park.

“I don’t know there’s much we could ever do to improve the lower section along Goldstream river short of fully relocating the road elsewhere,” said CRD Traffic Safety Commission Vice-Chair Chris Foord.

And Foord says it’s yet another reminder of the need for an alternate route.

“Nobody else in North America would put up with what we’re putting up with for alternatives,” he said. “I’m sure somewhere between the power line right of way and Shawnigan Lake there has to be some alternatives for you know getting a land-based option up in there.”

A provincial report on just that is being finalized and should be released by the end of the year.

Emcon says it still has some clean-up to do at the slide site but that work will happen at night.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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