Highway 4 was shut down on Monday as crews worked to remove rock debris from the only road in and out of Tofino-Ucluelet. (Photo - Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)

UPDATED: Rock blasting debris shuts down highway between Tofino-Ucluelet and rest of Vancouver Island

Only road in and out of Tofino-Ucluelet closed in both directions.

A bulldozer-sized rock crashed onto Highway 4 in the early morning hours of July 9, shutting down the road in both directions for over 12 hours as crews worked to remove it.

A rockface along the side of the highway is being blasted in order to widen the roadway as part of the provincial and federal government’s $38 million highway improvement project, but a scheduled blast around 1 a.m. Tuesday morning brought down more rock than expected, according to B.C. Ministry of Transportation Vancouver Island District Manager Mike Pearson

“We apologize for the inconvenience caused today and we sincerely appreciate everyone’s patience while we clean this up,” Pearson told the Westerly News.

READ MORE: Highway closures hit travellers heading in and out of Tofino and Ucluelet

Pearson said the blast occurred as planned, but a second area of rock was unexpectedly dislodged.

“We had some additional rock come down that we had not anticipated,” he said. “It wasn’t that the blast was too big, it just hit the other rock and caused that rock to slide out from where it was sitting.”

He said the road would likely reopen around 4 p.m.

“We’ve been working throughout the day here with equipment on site to bust up the rock and get it out of the way so that we can get the road reopened,” he said. “For context, the size of these rocks are the size of a bulldozer or a very large pickup truck, so they’re not small rocks by any means.”

He added that the project’s blasting work began in May, 2018, and over 200 blasts have been conducted.

“With every blast, we do our due diligence to assess the rockface, take note of any risks and then make a call based on the conditions that day and that time before doing any blasting. With today’s incident, there will be, and there’s a requirement for, a full investigation of what happened and why and what, if anything, needs to change in our processes,” he said.

He said the $38 million project is on schedule to be completed in the summer of 2020 and that about 50 per cent of the rock-blasting work is finished.

Ryan Wackett operates Westcoast Connect, a transportation company that delivers goods to and from the West Coast daily, and Wackett told the Westerly he had three, three-ton, trucks stuck in the highway closure as of 2 p.m.

“One since 6:30 a.m., one since 8:30 a.m. and one since about 11 a.m.,” he said. “If my three trucks don’t make it out there today, then I’m really in a pinch tomorrow because I have the same three full trucks running everyday.”

He said the closure has “massively” impacted his business, delaying deliveries and increasing his costs and added some of the goods his company delivers is time-sensitive for customers.

“We’re in touch with our customers and thankfully we have amazing customers on the West Coast that understand that they’re in an [isolated] place and things like this can happen,” he said. “I have an incredible team and incredible customers.”

He added though that he has concerns over what caused such a long delay.

“First of all, that scares me because did they even know what they were doing if they blasted off that much extra rock? What’s going on there? Is it safe?…How do you make that kind of a mistake?” he said.

He noted there has been other incidents related to the construction work being done, including a tree falling onto traffic and a boulder crashing into a power pole last summer and said travelling through the highway construction zone has become “nerve-wracking” for him and his employees.

He said Tuesday’s closure has also highlighted that there is only one road in and out of the West Coast and brought to mind the importance of area residents being prepared for an emergency.

“In light of recent earthquakes, it makes me think about the West Coast being cut off. This here is a huge disruption just for one day, but what if it’s a week? What if it’s 30 days?” he said. “You guys are cut off, literally, right now and this is just a small incident. So, I think of bigger situations, especially in light of earthquakes in the region, how prepared is the West Coast? People should be talking about that and thinking about it. It’s a big deal.”



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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READ MORE: Construction on Hwy. 4 halted after tree crashes into traffic

READ MORE: Hwy. 4 construction mishap causes eight-hour power outage in Tofino and Ucluelet

READ MORE: Major construction project on highway to Tofino and Ucluelet delayed

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