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Construction set to start on upgrades to Bamfield Main Road

The work will address decades-old safety concerns with the 76.6-kilometre logging road, which links Port Alberni and Bamfiled

Long-awaited improvements to the road to Bamfield are scheduled to be finished in late September, allowing paving — the final chunk of work — to be completed next year.

The work will not only address decades-old safety concerns with the 76.6-kilometre logging road, which links Port Alberni and the coast, but will make it easier for tourists and others to reach the picturesque community on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Huu-ay-aht Coun. Brad Johnson said Monday that the nation is “really excited” about the improvements, mainly for safety reasons but also for the economic opportunities they will bring.

At this point, the condition of the road is so poor that some Huu-ay-aht members will take a boat to receive medical care in Port Alberni rather than drive, said Johnson, adding chains are needed in the snow and large potholes are common.

The current condition of the road is “really awful,” he said.

The First Nation has long called for road improvements in the wake of deaths and injuries due to motor vehicle accidents. In 2019, two teenage University of Victoria students on a field trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre died after their bus slid down an embankment.

Improvements include a steel guard rail along sections of the road, including at the site of the bus crash.

Water will be able to run off to prevent flooding, and the rail will be open for about 0.3 metres from the surface so wildlife can pass through it.

Also planned are 1.8-metre-wide amphibian underpasses near Frederick Lake, one for Western toads and the other for red-legged frogs.

Concrete barriers are going up at approaches to the nearly 20 single-lane bridges along the route, and speed will be limited to 60 km/h.

Workers are putting down gravel to build up the road and will seal-coat it this year. The road is being raised in several sections to prevent flooding, said road project manager Kevin Gordon of Parsons Corp.

Traffic will be redirected along an existing detour to avoid heavy road work.

The province is contributing $25.7 million for the upgrades, while another $5 million is coming from the Huu-ay-aht, who are overseeing road construction.

Bidding for this year’s work closes March 29, and bidders can choose to bid on one of three 25-kilometre sections of the road or on the entire stretch. Contractors bidding on this year’s work will start work as soon as possible, Gordon said.

Another contract to pave in 2023 will be open for bids at a later date. Paving will be done at steep inclines, bridge approaches and intersections, Gordon said. That work will be finished by July at the latest, he said.

The First Nation is looking forward to increased economic activity from its holdings in Bamfield, which include hotels, a market and restaurant, Kiixin Tours, and an expanded Pachena Bay campground.

Tish McPhee, who operates a water taxi between east and west Bamfield, anticipates an increase in the number of daytrippers using her service for the chance to enjoy stretches of sandy beaches.

McPhee’s boat carries up to 12 people and she is optimistic that it will manage increased traffic.

Marnie McAughtrie, who owns Bamfield Mercantile and Marine with husband Kevin, said it’s “all hands on deck in the summer.”

She, too, anticipates more visitors and is hoping to see infrastructure improvements to accommodate higher visitor numbers.

Bob Beckett, Bamfield director on the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, said its upcoming budget includes $1.2 million from gas tax for enhanced infrastructure in Bamfield.

He said he has been working with residents to determine what they want the community to look like in the future and what qualities and values they want to retain.

Local issues include an updated official community plan, enhanced infrastructure such as parking, upgrading the water line between east and west Bamfield, and the need for affordable and multi-family housing.