The Ucluelet Volunteer Fire Brigade responded to a flipped fuel truck on Highway 4 near Kennedy Lake in June, 2017. (Photo-Ucluelet Volunteer Fire Brigade)

Meetings coming up in Tofino and Ucluelet to discuss Highway 4 closures

Province to host two information sessions in January to bring locals up to speed on the project.

The wildest stretch of highway leading to the Pacific Rim is getting its rough edges smoothed.

The tight, steep, cliffside Highway 4 climb down to Kennedy Lake on the way to Tofino is getting a 1.5-kilometre, $30 million makeover that will take two years, and frequent road closures, to complete.

Construction will begin in the spring of this year and last until the summer of 2020, according B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, which has unveiled a proposed schedule of highway closures that it says are needed to get the job done.

The current schedule suggests the highway will close in both directions everyday from 10 p.m. to midnight and again from 1-4 a.m. and 5-7 a.m. Travelers can expect roughly 30 minute delays during the daytime as the road will be open to single-lane alternating traffic.

The ministry is coming to the West Coast to bring locals up to speed on what the work and the closures will look like at two public information sessions: Jan. 23 in Tofino and Jan. 24 in Ucluelet.

“The ministry encourages community members to attend the information sessions to learn more about the Kennedy Hill Safety ImprovementProject, including timelines, proposed traffic management, and details such as the amount of rock to be blasted,” ministry spokesperson Danielle Pope told the Westerly News via email.

Anyone unable to attend either of the upcoming information sessions can check out a new Kennedy Hill Safety Improvements website and feedback can be provided by phone, toll-free, at 1-855-451-7152, or email to kennedyhill@gov.bc.ca.

Pope said the work includes removing more than 300,000 cubic metres, roughly 130 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth, of earth and rock to allw for the road, and its shoulders to be widened and a new roadside barrier to be installed between the highway and the lake.

She explained that the stretch of highway will also be straightened out and flattened and a hazardous, overhanging, rock will be removed. A new rest area and viewpoint is also expected to be completed.

“Discussions have been ongoing over the past year with First Nations, emergency responders, Parks Canada and business and tourism associations,” Pope said. “This input, along with the feedback from the public information sessions, will be used to finalize the construction timeline, including overnight traffic stoppage periods and a protocol for emergency response.”

She added conversations are also ongoing with local first responders.

“Ministry staff are working closely with first responders to develop an emergency protocol that will ensure emergency vehicles have access through the site at all times during an incident,” she said. “There will also be a contingency plan to open the highway for an evacuation should a disaster event occur.”

The $30 million bill for the work is being split between the provincial and federal government, with the province taking the lion’s share at $16.5 million.

Highway 4 was blocked in both directions several times last year prompting Ucluelet’s mayor Dianne St. Jacque to lobby for a car-ferry service as an alternate route of travel.