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Province nixes Christmas lights on main road through Port Alberni

Transportation ministry says lights across Highway 4 on Johnston Rd. don’t meet regulations

Although people in Port Alberni have gotten used to seeing Christmas lights strung up across the bottom of Johnston Road every year, the lights will not be making an appearance in 2023.

The province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) has “expressed concern” with the lights going up across Johnston Road, which is a provincial highway (Highway 4), says city CAO Mike Fox.

“[They] said it was in direct contravention of some of their policies,” Fox explained during a city council meeting on Monday, Nov. 27.

Although the city was able to put lights up on trees along Johnston Road, they weren’t able to install the decorations that hang over and across the highway, many of which were designed by local high school students. Fox said that staff are “looking at different options” to put the lights up either on Johnston Road or in other areas of town for 2024.

“It is a highway, so they have policies we are supposed to follow on their highways,” said Fox. “Other roads within the municipality, we look after them and we maintain them so we have control over them.”

Fox said in an interview on Friday that the issue came to light earlier in the fall during a conversation with someone from MOTI. “One of our operations managers was talking to MOTI about lights in general on Johnston Road and was made aware that our lights were not meeting their standards…and that if anything happened the city would be liable. We were advised there wasn’t a permit for them and they didn’t meet the standard.”

Fox, who has only been with the City of Port Alberni since March 2023, said he didn’t know if the city was required in previous years to submit a permit to put up the lights. “Historically, they’ve been up every single year.”

He added that the operations manager is working with MOTI officials to find out what the proper regulations are and how the city can obtain a permit, but because it’s already the first week of December he didn’t think there would be time to process a permit and put up the lights before Christmas this year.

In an email sent late Monday, an MOTI spokesperson said the province has required permits for work involving highways “for decades,” and that “the City of Port Alberni has, in the past, worked with the ministry on this.” Permits are only required for any string of lights crossing the highway “as safety clearances for commercial vehicles need to be maintained.”

Councillor Cindy Solda expressed disappointment with the decision, although she acknowledged it is a provincial highway.

“It’s just really disappointing when you look at other communities,” said Solda. “I don’t agree with it, and neither will the public agree with it.”

A spokesperson for the MOTI said the city is welcome to hang festive lights throughout the city, so long as they meet mandatory clearances to ensure the safety of the public and the flow of traffic, including vehicles with tall loads. The ministry requires permits for hanging lights across any provincial highway.

“We have invited the city to apply for the necessary permit,” a ministry spokesperson said. “Our office has not yet received an application, but we look forward to reviewing it promptly.”

On Monday the spokesperson said MOTI would process a permit from the city “expediently and work with the city in its efforts, as we support the city in its desires to decorate for the holidays.”

However, Fox says it may not be as simple as just applying for a permit.

“The main concern is the height of the lights,” he said. “The city would either need to make changes to the current cabling or change location.”

Fox added that the city is working on a plan that will likely involve community input.

“We hope to have lights back up on Johnston or another location next year,” he said.

— With files from Susie Quinn, Alberni Valley News

Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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