The province will be finalizing plans for safety improvements to Cathedral Grove this year, and will also be looking at some other improvements along Highway 4 between the east and west coasts of Vancouver Island.
Stefan Yancey, operations manager with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, attended a virtual Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) board meeting on Wednesday, April 28 to discuss some of the upcoming work on Highway 4.
One of the biggest items on the books is a safety project to address some of the pedestrian and parking issues at Cathedral Grove.
Located in MacMillan Provincial Park, Cathedral Grove is an old-growth forest that has become an international attraction, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area every year. With this popularity, parking issues and pedestrian safety concerns have followed. Cathedral Grove has been closed to tourists since the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, with fences blocking parking lots and access points.
Yancey explained that the ministry has been working on Cathedral Grove “in the background” over the past three years with some engineering and design work. The process was stalled during the 2020 provincial election, but now the ministry is planning one last round of public engagement, scheduled for late spring or early summer 2021.
After this, a final design will be brought forward.
The ministry had previously discussed some blasting work for Angel Rock, but Yancey said that this is no longer a priority, mostly due to the $20 to $30 million projected cost. Although a completed, detailed design is ready to go out to tender, the project has been put on hold.
“At the end of the day…we’d still be left with a two-lane roadway but just a one-and-a-half metre paved shoulder,” said Yancey. “We believe that we could probably spend that money on a more feasible project.”
Some construction will take place at a couple different locations on Highway 4 this summer. Paving is planned for a 10-km portion of road near Kennedy Lake, from Draw Creek Bridge to Thunderous Creek Bridge. The ministry will also be paving the “S” curves, located at the bottom of the Port Alberni summit heading eastbound towards Parksville.
A pedestrian-activated crosswalk will be added to the intersection of Highway 4 and Chesterman Beach Road and, within the City of Port Alberni, several crosswalks on Johnston Road will be repainted. The pedestrian crossing at Johnston Road and Ian Avenue will also be upgraded with some overhead lighted signage.
ACRD director and Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said she is concerned about pedestrians on the whole Johnston Road corridor. One pedestrian fatality has already occurred along the road this year.
“I know it technically is a highway, but it creates a lot of challenge,” she said. “We’re hoping to see some more pedestrian safety improvements on Lower Johnston Road over the next couple years as well.”
The ministry has also been working with city staff on an upgrade to the Highway 4 and Beaver Creek Road intersection. Yancey explained on April 28 that some preliminary engineering and design options have been completed.
“That is a project that’s ongoing and we’ll be completing some more design work on that this year,” he said.
Both Long Beach director Kel Roberts and Ucluelet director Rachelle Cole reiterated that communication along Highway 4 is still a priority—and an emergency services issue, as well, said Cole.
But while internet access along Highway 4 has been a wish for West Coast residents and visitors alike, Yancey said wi-fi will probably not be coming to the Kennedy Hill area for a while.
“The power lines that travel through that section are high-voltage power lines,” he explained. “In order to drop power down to that section, we would have to install a transformer and that’s just an estimate of a couple hundred thousand dollars.”
The ACRD board also expressed concerns about the popular Hole in the Wall tourist attraction, which is located off of Highway 4 just outside of Port Alberni. There is no parking, and visitors often park in the lot across the highway at Coombs Country Candy, dodging cars on foot across three lanes of highway traffic.
Access to the site is through private lands, which makes a solution complicated. Cherry Creek director Dianne Bodnar suggested putting up some temporary signage until a solution is found.
“There is nothing there to indicate that people are going to be crossing the highway,” she said.
Yancey said he would bring this up to the ministry’s traffic engineering team.
“It is a bit of a challenging solution there,” he said. “We do have signage in our inventory we could look at placing up there.”
Port Alberni director Ron Paulson warned that the problem is only getting worse, with the Hole in the Wall advertised as an attraction in some popular tourist publications.
“We do have an opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive in that area,” said Paulson.