The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) will be forming a transportation committee to look at an alternate road in and out of the Alberni Valley.
The ACRD board of directors agreed during a meeting on Wednesday, July 26 to form a transportation advisory committee. Wendy Thomson, the ACRD’s general manager of administrative services, says the committee will consider issues and make recommendations to the board about transportation options and issues in the region, including the options for a secondary route out of the Alberni Valley.
The topic of a second route has been a contentious one lately, as a wildfire has been forcing the closure of Highway 4 off and on since June. A detour has been opened up to Lake Cowichan via Bamfield Main, but this route is lengthy, with limited visibility, slow-moving traffic and lack of amenities for food, fuel, washrooms and emergency services.
The new committee will include representatives from local governments and First Nations, as well as the Port Alberni Port Authority, chambers of commerce from Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino, Mosaic Forestry Management, Paper Excellence, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the local business community. Thomson says the inaugural meeting will be held in October 2023.
Beaufort director Fred Boyko wanted to know how this committee would be different from previous committees that have attempted to accomplish the same thing. The Horne Lake Connector, he said, has been discussed as an alternate route for decades by various committees and nothing has ever come of it.
“How are we actually going to achieve something?” said Boyko. “This is impacting our businesses every day, including today, with no end in sight. So we need to have some actual objectives that are different than what has happened in the past.”
Daniel Sailland, the ACRD’s CAO, says the context of the conversation has changed, partially because it has the support of the provincial government now. He explained that the province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is now taking a “serious” look at alternative routes across B.C.
“Across the province there are a number of communities very similar to us, in a situation where they have one road in, one road out,” said Sailland.
He explained that the ACRD needs to focus less on lobbying this time, and more on the development of an “accurate business case” and business plan that shows which route will have the greatest economic impact.
Sailland also said that partnerships with local First Nations, including their economic visions, will be an important part of this process.
Uchucklesaht director Wilfred Cootes pointed out that in previous conversations, the highway being shut down long-term was always a hypothetical.
“And it’s proven now what happens,” he said. “The [Lake Cowichan route] is not a viable alternative. It does work, but it’s not good enough.”
Regional district chair John Jack said that the Highway 4 situation represents a “test” for the NDP government.
“This is an instance where we’re not a major urban centre, but we’re being impacted by climate change and these transportation issues,” he said. “We do need attention.”
The ACRD will be looking at the economic impact of the highway closure on both Port Alberni and the West Coast. Just a day after the board of directors meeting, the ACRD hosted a “Business Support and Recovery Information Session” to get feedback from local businesses.
The Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce have estimated a total of nearly $44 million in losses on the west coast alone.