A $30 million upgrade means closures are coming to the only road between the West Coast and the rest of Vancouver Island and local leaders believe an extra hour of access could make a big difference to the project’s palatability.
B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has unveiled a proposed two-year closure window that includes three schedules depending on the season. Each schedule contains daily delays and three closures of two to three hours each night. Concern from local leaders is focused on the first closure each night, which starts at 9 p.m. from March 1 to June 15 and September 15 to March 1.
Between June 15-September 15, that first closure starts an hour later at 10pm.
Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques believes pushing the 9 p.m. closures to 10 p.m. all year would help the tourism economy because many visitors, especially ones taking a BC Ferry, arrive at Port Alberni’s side of the highway between 9-10 p.m.
“It’s just an hour. I understand their challenges on the hill, I get that,” she said. “But, at the same time, this is our base economy out here on the Coast. We’re resort municipalities and they need to take that into serious consideration…If it gets too awkward out there, people are going to go somewhere else for their vacation.”
She said Ucluelet has asked for the later closure and is awaiting response from the Ministry.
“They have been receptive so far, but I haven’t seen anything in writing in regards to the change so I’m hoping to see that,” she said. “Not only for our ourselves that live here, because quite often I’m on the road at 9 p.m. at night, but also for our visitors and our economy.”
Tofino’s business community is also pushing for the extra hour, according to the Tofino Long Beach Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jen Dart.
“The board is contacting the Ministry of Driving and Transportation to express the opinion that the closure should be 10 p.m. year-round in order to reduce confusion for travellers and provide consistency,” Dart told the Westerly News in an email. “As we all know, travellers are coming to the West Coast throughout the year, and the Chamber board wants to ensure those travellers are well informed by eliminating any confusion around timed closures.”
She added the chamber is working with Tofino and Ucluelet’s Destination Marketing Organizations on a communications strategy to ensure visitors are aware of the closure times.
“This project will be important to provide a smoother driving experience to everyone who uses Hwy. 4, but keeping those users in mind over the duration of the two-year project is paramount,” she said. “Also to that end, the Chamber is pleased to be working with Tourism Tofino to help disseminate their communications plan for use by accommodation and tour providers.”
The Ministry wrapped up two public information sessions last month and a spokesperson told the Westerly that the hour-later closure was an oft-brought request from locals.
“Ministry staff, during the open houses, heard this concern from the public,” the spokesperson said adding all feedback received will be reviewed over the next few weeks. “We’re going to take all the input, have a look at it and make some decisions based on people’s feedback.”