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Survey swirls up confusion around Tofino-Ucluelet highway closures

“The Highway 4 Kennedy Hill Project closure times remain the same for now,” ministry says
An electronic sign at the Tofino-Ucluelet junction notifies travellers heading towards Sutton Pass that closure windows are in effect Thursday morning. (Andrew Bailey photo)

Construction on Hwy. 4 looks to be ending the year the same way it began it, covered in confusion.

The provincial and federal government’s $38 million Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement Project has been bringing daily planned closures, along with frustratingly frequent unplanned closures, to Hwy. 4 since the project began in 2018.

The project’s contractor Emil Anderson Construction launched an online survey on Nov. 23, explaining that West Coast residents and businesses had raised concerns over a current 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. planned closure window and asking people to respond to the survey if they wanted that time changed.

The survey’s deadline for responses was Nov. 25 and on Nov. 26 the contractor posted that the 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. closure would change to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. beginning on Jan 4 based on the survey’s results.

Thank you to everyone that participated in our survey. The majority of people requested us to change our closures to...

Posted by EAC Hwy 4 Kennedy Hill Project Updates on Thursday, November 26, 2020

However, B.C.’s ministry of transportation and infrastructure, which is overseeing the project and splitting its $38 million bill with the federal government, says the schedule has not changed.

“The Highway 4 Kennedy Hill Project closure times remain the same for now, as previously announced earlier this fall,” a Ministry spokesperson told the Westerly News via email. “The ministry is currently in discussions with the contractor on the scheduled blasting times. We recognize that public feedback and stakeholder input is important on the scheduled closures and we will be taking this information into consideration before approving any changes to the daily closure window.”

The ministry spokesperson added that the contractor’s survey was not conducted or approved by the ministry.

“We understand that Emil Anderson Construction was looking to better understand community need regarding Highway 4 Kennedy Hill closure times. This is helpful information for the ministry to consider,” they said. “Decisions around closure times are typically made by taking a variety of factors into consideration, including meeting community needs, safety requirements and contractual obligations…Consistent and reliable closure times have been continually expressed as an important consideration following a series of long and unplanned closures in spring 2020.”

The spokesperson said the ministry plans to reach out to its local partners and stakeholders for further feedback and, if any official schedule changes are made, the public would be advised.

The project was initially expected to be completed by the summer of 2020, but it has blown past that mark and is now hoped to be wrapped up by the summer of 2021.

“Factors affecting the timeline include the need for more complex blasts due to variable rock, COVID-19, increased environmental protections, repairs to Highway 4 resulting from blasting damage, and works shifting into winter,” the spokesperson said. “The new blasting regime involves much smaller blasts to ensure that the highway is reopened within the announced closures timeframes…We expect blasting of the bluffs above the highway, and the corresponding four-hour closures to be complete by next summer.”

Whether the project is on pace to hit its $38 million budget is up in the air as costs are still being hammered out.

“The ministry continues to work with Emil Anderson Construction in advancing the project through the challenging site conditions.” the spokesperson said.

Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel commended the contractor for reaching out to the community through the survey.

“I want to give credit to the contractor for taking the survey. Although a lot of us might say it’s a bit late, I believe that it’s better late than never,” Noel told the Westerly News Thursday morning.

He added that while the ministry has not yet approved the changes, he hopes the survey’s results will lead to more community engagement around the highway closures.

“The survey obviously has some value behind it. We know that it clearly displays that 9 a.m. was not an appropriate time,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in the medical community pushing for 10 a.m. and it sounds like a lot of people like 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. So, that’s a great starting point, we’ve never had that information prior to now. Let’s move forward and we’ll wait for the ministry of transportation to work with the contractor to see if that works for them.”

He said the District of Ucluelet was not notified that the survey would be posted.

“We obviously hope that they will engage with us and ask us how we’re doing, but at the end of the day we have no skin in the game,” he said. “We’re basically just informed like the general public.”

The Westerly News reached out to Emil Anderson Construction, but did not immediately hear back.

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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