Cars on Beaver Creek Road wait to turn left onto River Road on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. The intersection has been contentious for years as residents have asked for a light or roundabout to improve traffic flow. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Cars on Beaver Creek Road wait to turn left onto River Road on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. The intersection has been contentious for years as residents have asked for a light or roundabout to improve traffic flow. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

City of Port Alberni sees progress on Beaver Creek Road intersection

Cathedral Grove improvements delayed

MIKE YOUDS

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

City taxpayers are not expected to bear the cost of improving traffic flow at the congested intersection of Beaver Creek Road and River Road, Mayor Sharie Minions said during a council meeting on Monday, Feb. 28.

“Our expectation at this point is that it would be fully funded by the province,” Minions said as council received a staff update on preliminary design work by the Ministry of Transportation and Highways. “There hasn’t been a request to the city to fund any of the work.”

The ministry took the lead in addressing the traffic problem because the intersection is part of Highway 4 and a provincial responsibility.

Acting CAO Scott Smith said public engagement on intersection improvements should proceed this spring.

“The ministry as well as some consultants have been working on what they call functional design and have been consulting city staff as well as both First Nations,” as well as the Port Alberni Port Authority, which operates Clutesi Haven Marina, Smith said. “They do intend within the next two months to do wider public consultation on the improvements.”

Detailed construction design will follow, he added.

“Our hope is that they would submit that costing with approval for next year’s provincial budget and our expectation at this point is that it would be fully funded by the province,” Minions said. “They’ve done quite a bit of work already and that’s exciting.”

Survey crews have been on site recently and a consultant has prepared a proposed design for a roundabout. The ministry is also working on improvements to lower Johnston Road.

Minister of Transportation and Highways Rob Fleming has reassured the city design work will be completed by fall, affirming a commitment he made in a UBCM virtual meeting last fall.

“This is a really exciting initiative because I know the public has been asking for improvements for a long time,” the mayor said.

Through traffic has climbed steadily over the years to the point where local traffic often backs up along Beaver Creek Road, unable to exit for lack of a controlled intersection. The corner is priority No. 3 on a list of accident-prone city intersections requiring improvement.

“It’s pretty scary when you see the near-misses that I’ve seen,” said Councillor Cindy Solda, who has a direct view of the intersection from her restaurant. She sees drivers doing U-turns to avoid long waits. “It’s another accident waiting to happen.”

Meanwhile, a provincial government commitment to address traffic and pedestrian hazards at Cathedral Grove appears to have made little progress. Fleming invited further engagement with the city on the matter. Three years ago, the highways ministry and provincial parks staff held public engagement sessions on various options to address the problem.

“This has been going on for literally decades,” said Councillor Ron Corbeil. “Last Sunday it was already crazy … It’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed or seriously injured.”

Corbeil suggested a letter to the ministry, but there is more than one ministry involved, Minions said. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, which manages provincial parks, was a late addition to the conversation.

“My understanding is that’s the reason they haven’t proceeded yet, that there’s some additional work needing to be done there,” Minions said.

She added the city should reach out to four ministries, including highways, environment, tourism and a new ministry under MLA Josie Osborne: land, water and resource stewardship.

Port Alberni