Highway 4 was a topic of interest at the most recent Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention, according to Port Alberni city councillors.
During a committee of the whole meeting on Monday, Oct. 16, members of city council presented reports from their time at the convention, which took place from Sept. 18-22 in Vancouver.
Councillor Debbie Haggard says the common themes were wildfires, climate change and emergency preparedness.
“This has been the worst summer in history for the province for wildfires and that was top of mind for everybody there,” said Haggard.
Mayor Sharie Minions said the city managed to arrange 14 meetings with various provincial ministers this year.
“I think we got every meeting we requested this year, and that is a result of the good [briefing] notes that we put together,” she said. “I think it was incredibly successful.”
One of the biggest highlights was a meeting with Premier David Eby, where councillors discussed the closures of Highway 4 over the summer due to the Cameron Bluffs wildfire. Minions said that in the meeting, Eby committed to a “refreshed” study about alternative and emergency route options out of the Alberni Valley. The most recent provincial study was done in 2006.
“A lot has changed and that study was looking specifically from a lens of industry and how to move trucks,” Minions said. “I think there’s a good basis there and some good information that can be worked from, but it really needs to be broadened out. The current detour route that was in place for us over the summer wasn’t even a consideration in the 2006 study.”
According to Minions, the province has already put out a request for proposals (RFP) to find a contractor to undertake the study and work is expected to be completed by late spring of 2024.
“We’ll be able to have further conversations about next steps and implementation and improvements to whatever the chosen route is,” said Minions.
This will include community engagement, especially engagement with local governments and First Nations.
Councillors also met with Rob Fleming, the province’s minister of transportation, about the Highway 4 issue, but they also talked about improvements to Cathedral Grove. The province began public engagement and a safety study on the area back in 2018, but the process was delayed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“Work has been continually planned and put off,” said Minions. “That is important to us, regardless of what happens with alternative routes.”
She says they also discussed pedestrian safety improvements on lower Johnston Road. On the same day that she met with Fleming, a hit-and-run took place on lower Johnston Road, sending a pedestrian to the hospital. This is not the first time the topic has come up at UBCM, as Minions says the city asked the province to fund a study “several years ago” on pedestrian safety on Johnston Road.
“It’s getting a little old, but it’s a basis again, and something to go back to the province with and say this is a priority for us,” said Minions.