Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel is urging the provincial government to bring wireless internet access to both ends of the current Kennedy Hill construction project so that motorists can be updated on what’s happening ahead of them.
“Once you get into that dead zone, you’re just in the abyss,” Noel told the Westerly News on Thursday. “We’re not talking about going to WalMart everyday. We’re talking about people going to doctors’ appointments, people missing their specialist appointments, people missing their flights and they can’t even communicate and get accurate information. The only people that get accurate information are the first 5-10 cars in the lineup. I have continued to bring this conversation up and I am really, really sick and tired of it.”
Heavy rainfall caused a washout between Toquart Bay Road and Nahmit Forest Service Road on Wednesday, shutting the highway down in both directions and, while updates were provided through DriveBC, drivers caught in the closure could not access those updates as the area does not have cell service or wireless internet access.
“Half the town was screwed yesterday,” Noel said. “Every traveling motorist out there is being negatively impacted. I’m not slagging the contractors in any way, they have a very tough job to do and it’s compounded in this typical West Coast weather that we get.”
Noel suggested that outside of Wednesday afternoon’s washout, scheduled closures associated with the ongoing $33 million Kennedy Hill Improvement Project have been consistently inconsistent and that’s increased frustration.
“There’s not anybody that can say that there’s been consistency with the openings,” he said. “They continue to change how they open the lineup and it’s a frustration. When are they going to start listening and provide us Wi-Fi services at either end of the worksite so we can actually communicate?”
He said Wi-Fi would allow commuters to get up to date information about any delays and contact the people waiting for them on the other side of the highway.
“I am not attacking the contractor, I am attacking the fact that there is no communication,” he said. “[The Ministry of] Highways need to get with the program and realize that connecting motorists when they’re being interrupted needs to be one of their top priorities on top of moving people around this province.”
Noel said he was penning a letter to B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure on Thursday to reemphasize his concerns.
“I bring this up repeatedly every time I have the opportunity and this is another opportunity. We could have this weather until April and, if we have that, they’re going to have upsets and there needs to be better lines of communication. We’re not talking just about tourism here, we’re talking about fish trucks; we’re talking about our goods and services,” he said. “If we lived in more of an urban setting, like Parksville, Campbell River or Victoria, this wouldn’t be tolerated…Let’s just get on with this.”
In an email to the Westerly News, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said that lack of cell service along Hwy. 4 has “long been a concern” and the government has been reaching out to cellular service providers expressing the need for better service throughout B.C.
“The ministry has explored the feasibility of providing WiFi at the Kennedy Hill construction site. Due to the mountainous terrain and the type of power available at the site, the addition of WiFi isn’t feasible,” the spokeperson wrote. “In the event of an unscheduled closure, the contractor’s staff walk the queue to provide information and expected opening time to drivers, so they can make the decision whether to wait or turn around. If we estimate a long closure, flaggers are deployed to the Junction, and Sproat Lake Area as well. We know that west coast residents and area businesses rely on Highway 4. We thank them for their patience while we work to improve the safety and reliability of the highway in the challenging Kennedy Hill area.”
They added that updates are posted to DriveBC.ca as well as Facebook at EAC Hwy 4 Kennedy Hill Project Updates and commuters are encouraged to “know before they go.”