Despite record-breaking rainfall and cold, snowy conditions throughout the fall and winter, improvements to Highway 4 remain on track, according to the Ministry of Transportation.
The work is expected to be substantially completed by summer 2022, the ministry said. Finishing touches will continue throughout the fall.
The goal of the project, which started in 2018, is to make the 1.5-kilometre section of Highway 4 known as Kennedy Hill wider, straighter and safer. It involves removing more 150,000 cubic metres of rock by blasting rock bluffs more than 50 metres high.
The project was originally slated for completion in the summer of 2020 but was put on hold for several months after rockfall from a blast compromised the road in January 2020.
The event left Tofino, Ucluelet and the surrounding First Nations communities cut off from Port Alberni and the rest of Vancouver Island.
It was later announced that the project completion date was pushed back to winter 2021, and that the budget had increased to $53.96 million from $38.1 million.
After years of delays, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation tribal administrator Jim Chisholm said he isn’t confident the project will be complete by summer.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “But I’m a little skeptical that they’ll get it done.
The uncertainty around unplanned and extended road closures has come at a price, said Chisholm.
Many contractors hired by Tla-o-qui-aht travel from out town and bill the nation for the time they spend waiting at the road closure, he said. “It’s had a huge impact on us.”
Laura McDonald, president of the Tofino Long-Beach Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the extended road closures — some scheduled, some not — during the project have been difficult to deal with.
“This has impacted businesses and residents in a variety of ways, including increased travel time, costs and inconvenience,” she said.
Saya Masso, natural resources manager for the First Nation, said community members have had to plan their lives around the closures.
“I know some people have slept in their vehicles overnight because they couldn’t catch a boat home,” he said. “It’s been a struggle.”
Masso said the re-opening of the road will “relieve a lot of pressure.”
— Ha-Shilth-Sa with files from the Times Colonist