(Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure photo)

(Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure photo)

Highway closure to block access to Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim next week

Hwy. 4 to Ucluelet and Tofino to be shut down in both directions from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 23.

Access to Ucluelet and Tofino will be be severely restricted for most of a day next week

B.C.’s ministry of transportation and infrastructure has announced that Highway 4 — the only road connecting the Tofino-Ucluelet region to the rest of Vancouver Island — will be shut down in both directions from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 23.

The ministry says the closure is needed to remove a large rock bluff as part of the provincial and federal government’s $38 million Kennedy Hill Improvement project.

“This 10-hour closure is required for crews to undertake one of the most complex blasts on the project. The daylight closure will allow workers time to prepare the road beneath the blast area, and to safely remove loose rock immediately following the blast,” the announcement reads.

Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel said that removing the large rock bluff could catapult the project forward.

“There’s one nasty, big rock in question that these guys need to overcome and once they overcome this, it is going to be easy street,” he said. “I’ve been led to believe that there will be the possibility of less closures here if they can get around this obstacle…This is something to celebrate. If they can get this hazard dealt with, it’s going to be a good thing for the West Coast. It makes us get a little bit closer to the finish line.”

He added that once the Kennedy Hill project is complete, further roadwork will still be needed to bring the rest of the highway up to an acceptable safety standard.

“It won’t be to this extent of disruption, but for the foreseeable future there are going to be sections that need to be addressed so that the over-a-million travelling motorists have a bit of a safer, smoother road to travel on,” he said. “Until there is a motivation to actually deal with 20-30 kilometres that will serve the West Coast residents for 100 years, we’ll just continue to get piecemealed and this is what we end up with: two or three kilometres get repaired every year and, at the end of the day, it does get tiresome for everybody.”

Work on the project, which is focused on upgrading a roughly 1.5-kilometre stretch of highway near Kennedy Lake, began in 2018, bringing daily closures to West Coast commuters. The project was initially expected to be complete by the summer of 2020 but has since blown past that timeline. A firm new completion date has not been announced.

READ MORE: Highway closures hit travellers heading in and out of Tofino and Ucluelet

The current closure schedule, which includes four-hour closures from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday, is expected to resume on Wednesday, March 24, according to the ministry.

The Highway 4 Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement Project closure schedule is attached for the period of February 22 to…

Posted by EAC Hwy 4 Kennedy Hill Project Updates on Monday, February 22, 2021

“When completed, the Highway 4–Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement Project will create a safer, more reliable connection between Port Alberni and the west coast of Vancouver Island,” the announcement reads. “The ministry thanks motorists and residents on both sides of the closure for their patience.”

Concerns have been raised around how the March 23 closure could impact a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for seniors in Ucluelet scheduled for March 24, but Noel assured multiple agencies are having “conversations in the background” to ensure that clinic goes as planned.

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andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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