Update: The section of Highway 4 that was closed due to a wildfire, limiting access to Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet, is scheduled to reopen at 3 p.m. today.
Reopening Highway 4 at midnight on whichever day traffic is permitted again could mitigate the number of vehicles waiting to get through at first, says the managing director of the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino.
Charles McDiarmid suggests reopening the highway at midnight to accommodate heavy vehicles which have been waiting to leave the west side of Vancouver Island.
“There will be an initial surge I expect and then it will settle down to normal traffic.”
It’s not clear yet when a seven-kilometre section of the highway, closed because of a wildfire, will reopen but the Ministry of Transportation is expected to provide an update at noon on Friday.
When the highway first opens, motorists can expect delays because a section in the Cameron Bluffs area will be single-lane alternating traffic.
The highway is anticipated to fully reopen in mid-July.
The Ministry of Transportation has been cautioning that motorists should expect long queues.
McDiarmid is not particularly concerned about the portion that will be single-lane only.
“We are very experienced with single-lane alternating traffic in Tofino and Ucluelet,” due to work on the highway for the past four years, he said.
Drivers have been using an alternate gravel route for essential purposes while the Highway 4 section has been closed. That alternate route will remain available until Highway 4 reopens fully.
As of Thursday, it was not known what day the highway will open, although it is likely to happen on Saturday or Sunday.
Crews have been working to stabilize the steep slope rising above the highway. Large trees and rocks have been falling down the slope onto the roadway because of the 229-hectare Cameron Bluffs wildfire. The fire is under control and crews are patrolling the area and putting out hotspots.
The tourism sector on the west side of the Island has been battered since the wildfire was discovered on June 3, closing the seven-kilometre section of Highway 4 a few days later.
There’s been a wave of reservation cancellations at tourist spots. But calls are picking up again now that word is out that the highway is opening soon, with most callers interested in mid-July and onward, McDiarmid said.
He noted that there is no smoke on the west coast.
Jolleen Dick, Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director, said when the highway is open again, “it’s going to definitely improve the volume of people coming to Port Alberni and the west coast.
“It means that any shipments that were delayed on the other side will be able to get through safely without having to go through the detour. Our hospitality, food and beverage businesses hopefully can have more visitors eating, dining and drinking here in town and experiencing all our offerings.”
Big industries banded together to use barges to deliver and carry out materials too heavy to be moved along the detour route. “They had to get creative and partner with other industry to receive the other shipments to keep the mill operating.”
“Other contractors definitely felt the impact because they had to send their own staff to the other side to pick up materials, leading to a delay in getting work done.”
Some materials could not be carried on the gravel road because they would be damaged, Dick said.
Anyone looking for updated information can check DriveBC to check Highway 4 conditions, view highway webcams and use a tool called Plan Your Route.
To help complete the highway work, the Ministry of Transportation has announced that three day-use parks will be closed to the public until the highway fully reopens.
MacMillan Provincial Park (Cathedral Grove) and the day-use picnic areas of Cameron Lake and Beaufort in Little Qualicum Falls will be temporarily closed to help reduce traffic congestion and keep traffic through the corridor flowing smoothly.
Signs will be posted about these closures. Barrier fencing will be in place at MacMillan Provincial Park. Parking areas will be reserved for use by ministry staff only. Staff will be on site to guide traffic.
The parks will reopen once the highway is fully open.
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