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Residents push for Horne Lake route out of the Alberni Valley

Former Alberni-Clayoquot Transportation Committee worried about winter road closures
Darren DeLuca presents some of the proposed connector routes to the ACRD board on Wednesday, Sept. 27. (SCREENSHOT)

Residents are urging the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) to make an alternate route out of the Alberni Valley a priority.

Members of the former Alberni-Clayoquot Transportation Committee attended an ACRD board of directors meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27 to promote the Horne Lake Connector as an alternate route in and out of Port Alberni.

The committee, which was active from 2012-16, was initiated by the Port Alberni Port Authority to address the potential increase of traffic due to the Raven Coal mine proposal, although this proposal was later scrapped. The primary purpose of the committee, explained former committee member Darren DeLuca, was to find a safe and reliable route connecting Port Alberni to the inland Island Highway (Highway 19).

DeLuca told the board that the committee examined multiple different routes, but chose the Horne Lake Connector because it had the lowest elevation and the least amount of snow, even though it wasn’t necessarily the cheapest route.

The then-Liberal provincial government committed to undertaking a business case review and cost benefit analysis, and ultimately determined that it was less costly to spend money on improvements to Highway 4, instead of building a new connector.

However, as DeLuca pointed out, there have been “very little” improvements in the referenced section of Highway 4 since this review in 2016.

DeLuca says when the government undertook its cost benefit analysis, it didn’t take into account things like tourism traffic with people driving out to the west coast.

“The numbers didn’t work out,” he said.

Since then, DeLuca added, traffic counts along Highway 4 have only increased.

Mike Newton, one of the consultants who did some design work back in 2006 for a new route into the Alberni Valley, said the benefit of the Horne Lake route would be the traffic to and from the North Island.

“It’s time saving for North Island travellers,” he explained.

Bob Cole, another member of the former committee, said a new, shorter and more reliable highway would provide benefits to Port Alberni and west coast businesses, but would also help residents of the ACRD reach their health care and medical appointments more easily. He believes the Horne Lake route should become the main route in and out of Port Alberni, with Highway 4 becoming an “alternate” route for tourists.

“Our current highway isn’t reliable or efficient,” said Cole. “And it’s very unpredictable.”

He asked the ACRD to push for the new route “as soon as possible.”

DeLuca said that the ACRD will have more political influence this time around, now that the region has an MLA, Josie Osborne, serving in the cabinet.

“But the single biggest thing, I think, is that Highway 4 is now a dangerous and unreliable highway,” said DeLuca.

Sproat Lake director Penny Cote says she travelled the emergency route to Lake Cowichan once this summer.

“I don’t want to go there again,” she said. “It’s very treacherous. I think that there is support from down south to go that route, but I’d much rather see something quicker and more viable for our community.”

Cole agreed that the current emergency route to Lake Cowichan does nothing to benefit the west coast economically.

“Our area growth will remain slow unless we have a safer and more reliable highway connector,” he said.

Beaufort alternate director Jack McLeman made a motion asking the ACRD to pursue the Horne Lake route as an emergency route “immediately,” but other ACRD directors disagreed.

“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves trying to lobby for an emergency route immediately,” said Wilfred Cootes, Uchucklesaht Tribe Government director.

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said that the province has already agreed to update the studies that have been done and assess multiple routes.

“To ask them now, when they’ve already agreed to fund that study and they’re about to put out a request for proposals for a contractor to conduct it, would not make sense,” she said.

McLeman said that the west coast was “held hostage” all summer by road closures, and said that he is now worried about how heavy rains and freezing temperatures this winter will have an effect on the highway.

Beaver Creek director Susan Roth agreed.

“I think we should take this really seriously and move quickly, because before long there will be a bigger problem,” she said.

However, the ACRD board decided to defer the discussion to their next board meeting, after ACRD staff meet with staff from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to talk about their plans for the highway this winter.

The ministry is also expected to be a delegation at the Oct. 27 board meeting.

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Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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