Drivers were once again stuck on either side of the only road in and out of the West Coast on Wednesday morning after another rock blasting mishap shut down Highway 4 in both directions for roughly eight hours.
The road was closed from around 4 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. on July 31 as rock blasting work being done as part of the provincial and federal government’s $38 million Kennedy Hill Improvement Project caused more debris than expected to crash down on the roadway and need to be cleared off.
This is the second time this month that the highway has been unexpectedly closed due to blasting debris as a similar incident on July 9 brought a large boulder onto the road that took over 12 hours to remove.
“We understand the frustration and inconvenience caused by these closures, given that Highway 4 is the only route in and out from the communities of Tofino and Ucluelet,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure told the Westerly News in an email during last week’s closure. “Rock blasting and major earthworks are only conducted during the scheduled nighttime closure times and pre-scheduled road closures were in effect; however, the closure beyond 7 a.m. was unexpected and was the result of a routine blast, where more rock debris came down than expected. The ministry apologies for any inconvenience caused by the extended closure.”
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne expressed frustration with the closure and told the Westerly News that residents and visitors need accurate information around when the highway will be closed so that they can plan trips in or out of town.
“I think it’s frustrating for everyone to see our one and only highway closed unexpectedly. After safety, my biggest concern is accurate, timely communication so people know what to expect in terms of possible delays and changes to their travel plans, and the District of Tofino has relayed this concern directly to the Ministry,” she said.
She added that residents should always be prepared for road closures and that information must be relayed to travellers.
“Whether it’s due to construction or a natural event like a landslide or forest fire, the risk of highway closure is something we all need to take into account when it comes to emergency preparedness and trip planning,” she wrote. “Events like these are all part of living on the West Coast, but that doesn’t always make it easy to explain to visitors. Patience goes a long way and again, accurate information goes a long way too so plans can be adjusted when necessary.”
Ucluelet Mayor Mayco Noel said he would wait until the results of an investigation into the incident before making comments about the work being done.
“It’s starting to raise our eyebrows,” he said, adding he had been in contact with the Ministry throughout the closure receiving constant updates on the roadwork.“They will do an investigation this week and come up with a few conclusions to why it happened. I think until that happens, it would be inappropriate to make any rash comments.”
He echoed Osborne’s sentiments about being prepared.
“That’s what we think about when we get cut off at the knees like this, we really realize we’re at the mercy of the contractor or mother nature,” he said. “We need to be prepared. We can’t just always take for granted that the road will be open. Whether it’s due to landslides, tsunami, construction or car accidents, we have to be really prepared that this is going to happen from time to time.”