A long lobbied for alternate route in and out of the Alberni Valley has been struck down by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone stated in a press release that the MOT has “concluded that the costs of constructing and maintaining a new highway outweigh the expected benefits for travellers.”
Instead, the business case outlined a slew of Hwy. 4 improvements—including safety improvements at Cathedral Grove, an extension to the westbound passing lane at the Alberni Summit, upgrades to the Hwy. 19 and Hwy. 4 interchange and widening the highway at Angel Rock. Those upgrades are estimated to cost $24 million, versus an estimated $92 million for the suggested second route, dubbed the Horne Lake connector.
The decision was disappointing—but not surprising—for Alberni Valley politicians.
“It’s not an overly big shock to me that they said no, because a lot of people in the ministry [of transportation] don’t want it and unless we have a really strong minister we’re not going to get it… and I guess we don’t have a strong minister,” said City of Port Alberni Coun. Jack McLeman.
McLeman, who has been fighting for an alternate route out of the Alberni Valley for years, said that while any Hwy. 4 improvements are welcome, they don’t address evacuation issues.
“It won’t solve the problems of access or getting 20,000 people through there if we have a storm or a [forest] fire,” said McLeman.
Citing the high cost of the Horne Lake connector, Pacific-Rim MLA Scott Fraser said he hoped that a shorter bypass of Cathedral Grove could still be a possibility.
“One of the solutions to deal with Cathedral Grove and the slowing of traffic was an express route that would run from the bottom of the ‘s curve’ and tie in by Cameron Lake,” said Fraser. The idea first came up, he noted, during the 2005 environmental advocate protests of MOT plans to cut down trees in Cathedral Grove to increase parking. The route would go behind Cathedral Grove and allow both industrial traffic and tourists headed through, rather than to, the area to bypass it altogether.
“I’ve re-energized that discussion with the ministry and they’ve shown interest,” said Fraser, adding that it would also allow the province to close Cathedral Grove—which is a provincial park—when storms make the old growth trees in the area a danger rather than an attraction.
Coun. Chris Alemany said that while the city is disappointed in the result, he’s also not surprised by it—but is hoping that highways funding will come to the region in other ways, especially in increased funding opportunities roads west of Port Alberni.
The Huu-ay-aht First Nations and Bamfield have both lobbied to get the road to Bamfield paved and more recent discussions have included a circle route extending south to Lake Cowichan.
“It probably means that Horne Lake connector is off and maybe that those other circle routes have increased opportunities for funding…and those would benefit Port Alberni as well,” said Alemany.
Fraser said that with the traffic numbers that the MOT is basing its decision on, it’s not surprising that they’ve chosen against the connector.
“According to their statistics only eight per cent of traffic would be using the new route,” said Fraser—but added that those numbers could change if projects like the Port Alberni Transshipment Hub and the LNG facility go ahead.
“It’s very shortsighted,” he said.
Katya Slepian now works with the Black Press digital team in Surrey.