Video by Peter McCully and Arnold Lim
The end is closer than the beginning for the Kennedy Hill Safety Improvements Project that’s brought a daily grind of closures to the only road between the West Coast and the rest of Vancouver Island.
“We’ve had 400 blasts to date and moved nearly 90,000 cubic metres of material and things continue to tick along well. It’s finicky and detailed work, but we’re seeing the pace that we want to see to keep us on schedule,” the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s regional deputy director for the south coast Janelle Staite told the Westerly News. “We recognize that there has been a significant number of closures…People have had to make some adjustments to accommodate for the work, but ultimately, I think, at the end when we have this project open in the summer of 2020, those delays now will be worth the benefits that come as a result of this project being completed.”
The $38 million project, being paid for by the provincial and federal governments, began in the spring of 2018 and is focused on a roughly 1.5-kilometre stretch where a steep hill and tight corners combine with an encroaching rock-face to create a notoriously daunting task for drivers. Staite noted the rock overhang would force large eastbound vehicles into the westbound lane to avoid it.
“Moving the mountain is the big part because that gives us the footprint to actually do all those safety improvements that come with this project,” she said. “We have many areas in the province where we have challenging topography and this is one of those areas. We’re between a rock and a hard place, we have a rock bluff on one side and we have Kennedy Lake on the other side.”
That bluff is being obliterated with explosives, which have proven tough to predict and Staite acknowledged there have been unanticipated closures and lengthy delays.
“That is why we have the incremental closures that we do and we size our blasts so that we only bring down enough material so that we can get the material off the highway in time to get it reopened again,” she said. “Sometimes you have a blast and you’ve planned everything perfectly and, unfortunately, the way the rock was anticipated to sheer in that blast happened differently so more material came down.”
The blasted rock will be used to construct a viewpoint on the lake-side of the highway.
“Ultimately, that does equate to not only some construction savings for us in terms of material, but a safe spot for tourists and locals to stop and take some needed downtime or just take some photos and rest if needed,” she said.