Provincial government staff host public engagement session over Cathedral Grove safety at the Port Alberni Friendship Center in 2019. (MIKE YOUDS/ Special to the AV News)

Provincial government staff host public engagement session over Cathedral Grove safety at the Port Alberni Friendship Center in 2019. (MIKE YOUDS/ Special to the AV News)

Province resumes public engagement over Highway 4 safety at Cathedral Grove

Visitor safety and traffic congestion back under consideration after talks stalled in 2019

BY MIKE YOUDS

Special to the AV News

Provincial government ministries are preparing for more public engagement on safety improvements in Cathedral Grove.

Visitor safety and traffic congestion through the busy park have been a serious concern for decades. As tourist traffic and park visitors increase at this time of year, risk of an accident goes up as well. Alberni Valley residents and RCMP have long called for more safety measures.

Parks staff from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy together with Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure staff started consultations in fall 2018 and held a second round in summer 2019. About 500 people submitted ideas. A preliminary safety study was used to develop design options that would address pedestrian and traffic issues while protecting the integrity of the park.

Four years after the planning process began, there has been no visible sign of progress, leading Port Alberni city council to speculate about an apparent delay in safety improvements. As it turns out, there is no delay, not officially at least.

“The ministry hasn’t yet finalized safety improvements, as we’re still in the engagement process and expect the next public engagement to take place soon,” a spokesperson for the environment ministry explained, responding to a query from Alberni Valley News.

The ministry continues to monitor speed limits through the area to determine if additional changes are warranted: “Traffic slowing mechanisms have been put in place, and we are working to increase awareness of drivers and visitors to the safety issues.”

Others had spoken out before Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce called for greater safety measures seven years ago, said executive director Bill Collette.

“We first brought this up back in the summer of 2015,” Collette noted. “We produced a video that can be found online — ‘Cathedral Chaos’ — that clearly depicted the problem.”

In his estimation, it has been seven years of very little action.

“There has been public engagement, so I’m not sure why more is needed. I find it interesting that so much has been spent improving the ‘end of the road’ at Kennedy Lake yet virtually nothing at the beginning of the road (Cathedral Grove).”

The province has taken some steps over the years, installing speed reader boards, overhead flashing pedestrian signs, warning lights and no-left-turn signs. By most accounts, those have not resolved the problem.

During the last phase of public engagement, the transportation ministry said a more costly, long-term option to ease the hazardous bottleneck through the park — a highway bypass widely favoured by area residents — would not solve the main problem.

No dates have been announced for the next phase of public engagement.

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CATHEDRAL CHAOS TIMELINE

2003: Province announces plans for parking lot relocation to improve access and safety in MacMillan Provincial Park, Cathedral Grove.

2011: Province abandons plans for parking lot after public backlash. Traffic calming devices installed instead.

2015: Chamber of commerce releases video, calls for improvements.

2018: Province begins public engagement, conducts safety study.

2019: Public engagement continues; options include a pedestrian overpass, new parking areas and a centre barrier to prevent U-turns; province starts engineering work for safety improvements.

2020: Cathedral Grove design work listed on Premier John Horgan’s constituency blog site.

2021: Chamber calls Cathedral Grove parking lot “a gong show” and an accident waiting to happen.

2022: Province to resume public engagement.

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