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EDITORIAL: Transportation network fragile on Vancouver Island

We usually take it for granted that we will be able to get from here to there
Two workers walk along Highway 4 around Angel Rock conducting a geotechnical assessment prior to June 8, 2023. The Cameron Bluffs wildfire has closed Highway 4 between Parksville and Port Alberni. (B.C. MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION PHOTO)

We’ve had yet another reminder that our transportation infrastructure on Vancouver Island is far more fragile than we’d like to believe.

We usually take it for granted that we will be able to get from here to there. We don’t think of communities like Duncan, Courtenay or Port Alberni as isolated, but they can quickly become so with just a little bad luck.

The Malahat is still being repaired after flooding washed out a key section in November of 2021, causing a complete closure for a time. Fortunately, the damage wasn’t so bad as to completely close the road until repairs could be done, or even necessitate going down to a single lane for an extended period of months, but it was a close thing, and the danger of it happening is very real. The Malahat is the main connection between Victoria and the rest of the Island. The Pacific Marine Circle Route, while fun as a tourist drive, is not a commuter and heavy-freight friendly route.

A couple of years before that the Trans-Canada Highway between Nanaimo and Cowichan was closed when flood waters rose near Chemainus. In that instance, the usual detour along Chemainus Road was also taken out by the flooding, leaving a complete severance until waters receded.

And last week Highway 4 between Parksville and Port Alberni was closed, and remains so indefinitely at the time of writing, due to a wildfire near Cameron Lake. Highway 4 is the only normal connection between the east and west portions of Vancouver Island. A detour has been set up on logging roads from Lake Cowichan to Port Alberni in the meantime, but it is far from ideal.

As Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet head into the busy summer tourist season the news could not be worse. Convoys have been set up for transport trucks so that the communities will have necessities, but tourists will be far less likely to venture to these communities without the main highway.

These kinds of incidents are exactly why some have been clamouring for years for alternative routes. Many would like to see a resumption of the train on the E&N rail line, which would provide an alternative to the Malahat. Also of interest would be ferries going from community to community up and down our coast — and not the kind of slow, small ferry that serves the Brentwood Bay/Mill Bay route, but a proper service that could take some serious traffic off the roads.

We should also seriously consider a real road between Port Alberni and Lake Cowichan.

We need to think of our future needs — including during emergencies — and plan accordingly.

— Black Press