Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Travellers struggle to find alternatives to hobbled Malahat

Long lineups for Mill Bay ferry; traffic also up on other ferry routes as travellers try to bypass Malahat

A man who operates a water taxi between Mill Bay and Sidney says his phone has been “ringing off the hook” since a massive rainstorm closed the Malahat on Monday.

Miles Arsenault shuttled three parties stranded by the closure Monday on his 23-foot boat, helping people reach the Victoria airport to catch a flight to Calgary and bringing a man home to his pregnant wife approaching her due date. His service, Bay to Bay Charters, was still in demand Tuesday, with a couple of runs and lots of interest from those trying to find a way around the Malahat.

The highway was closed overnight Monday in both directions between West Shore Parkway and South Shawnigan Lake Road, reopening Tuesday morning to single-lane-alternating traffic. Overnight closures will continue into the weekend from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

B.C. Ferries shuttled about 320 cars between Brentwood Bay and Mill Bay on full sailings overnight Monday, and lines at both terminals stretched for multiple kilometres on Tuesday.

Five crew members were called in to run the eight round-trip overnight sailings of the MV Klitsa between the two terminals, said Deborah Marshall, spokeswoman for B.C. Ferries. Drivers faced multiple sailing waits while the ferry, which carries only 19 vehicles, shuttled back and forth.

B.C. Ferries added four additional round-trip sailings Tuesday evening between Brentwood Bay and Mill Bay, with priority given to emergency vehicles. Carrying capacity is limited by the fact that larger vessels do not fit in the Mill Bay and Brentwood Bay terminals, B.C. Ferries said in a statement.

With demand for the ferry expected to increase during the highway closures, B.C. Ferries is advising customers to expect waits and come prepared with snacks and water. There was approximately an eight-hour wait for sailings early Tuesday, which dropped to about three to four hours by about 11 a.m., Marshall said.

Marshall said B.C. Ferries has also seen increased demand on the route from Swartz Bay to Salt Spring Island’s Fulford terminal, and from Salt Spring’s Vesuvius terminal to Crofton.

A longer alternate route from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen and Tsawwassen to Duke Point was also busy Tuesday, but Marshall said that could be the result of pent-up demand from Monday, when some sailings were cancelled due to high winds.

Marshall said she can remember only one other time in the last 20 years when ferries have run overnight during an extensive Malahat closure.

While the ferry provides an alternate route for those trying to travel up-Island, she said, it can’t accommodate the traffic that the Malahat sees daily — 20,000 to 30,000 vehicles.

B.C. Transit buses on routes 75 and 83 were detoured on Tuesday as a result of the ferry lineups.

Several hotels contacted in the Cowichan Valley said they were full and fielding calls from people looking for rooms.

One hotel worker said she answered about 150 calls between noon and 3 p.m. on Monday from people searching for accommodation, and the calls continued into the night.

“A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, you know what, we’re in a really tough situation. Like, do you have a couch I can sleep on or do you have a broom closet I can sleep in?’ ” said Misty Smith.