The province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure does not have plans to open a second alternate route out of Port Alberni, despite the closure of Highway 4.
Janelle Staite, deputy director for the ministry, said during a press conference on Thursday, June 8 that the Horne Lake connector—which connects Highway 4 to Highway 19 via gravel logging roads—is currently being used by emergency vehicles and B.C. Wildfire Services personnel only.
The Horne Lake connector is part of Mosaic Forest Management’s private forest lands. Access to Mosaic’s lands has been restricted, “due to an increased risk of wildfire and concern for public safety,” according to their website.
“We are using this road with the permission of Mosaic, so emergency services at the request of Mosaic are able to get through there,” said Staite. “We have some critical B.C. Wildfire Services personnel getting through there, as well as ministry maintenance contractors getting through there.”
The road, she added, is a single-lane road that only enables traffic to get through if it is piloted.
“It cannot handle commercial vehicles and it needs four-by-four vehicles to get through there, so it’s certainly not an all-encompassing detour route, but one that is being used very specifically for high-need vehicles,” she said.
The Horne Lake connector has been discussed for decades and over various city councils as an alternate route out of Port Alberni. Back in 2016, the route was officially struck down by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, with then-Minister Todd Stone stating that “the costs of constructing and maintaining a new highway outweigh the expected benefits for travellers.”
In a Facebook post, Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions says that she has been having conversations with the ministry about using the Horne Lake connector as an alternate route out of Port Alberni.
“We will continue pushing for a second route as we have over the years and this incident will greatly strengthen our position with the province unfortunately,” she said.
Highway 4 has been closed since Tuesday, June 6 as an out-of-control wildfire continues to burn on Cameron Bluffs near Angel Rock. As of Thursday afternoon, the fire was listed at 180 hectares on the BC Wildfire map.
At this time, a detour is available in and out of Port Alberni through a series of forest-service and privately-owned industrial roads that leads to Lake Cowichan via Bamfield. The detour extends travel by four hours and includes “difficult driving conditions,” says the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Information about the detour route can be found through an Emergency Travel Information button on the DriveBC homepage. Updates are being posted on the BC Transportation Twitter page @TranBC.
—with files from Lauren Collins, Black Press