Old Island Highway shutdown in Buckley Bay area has business owners worried

A highway closing near a small community between Nanaimo and Campbell River has local business owners worried about a loss of revenue during their peak season.

A 1.8-kilometre stretch of Highway 19A was closed from Cook Creek Road to Berray Road for six weeks starting Monday. The road work on the highway, also called the Old Island Highway, will repair a culvert that was washed out two years ago and received a temporary fix at the time. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said in an email that the repairs are necessary to improve the road’s safety.

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The closed section starts about 10 kilometres south of Buckley Bay, where highway signs are alerting drivers to the closing. At the signs, travellers can turn off the highway that hugs the coast, and onto Highway 19, bypassing Fanny Bay.

That has Roxanne O’Brien worried about how she will keep her pub afloat. O’Brien owns the Fanny Bay Inn, a pub that sits about halfway between the highway turn-off at Buckley Bay and the closed section. She’s worried that tourists won’t bother coming to Fanny Bay and stopping at the pub for a meal if it means having to backtrack because of the closing.

“If you’re coming down the old highway and see a flashing sign saying ‘Road Closed,’ you’re going to turn immediately,” she said.

O’Brien said about 50 per cent of her business comes from tourists during the summer and predicts she will lose thousands of dollars in sales per day during the six-week closure. She employs 16 people at the pub, and has no doubt loss of business will force her to let some people go.

“These are local people,” she said. “That’s 16 jobs on the line.”

While O’Brien said she understands the road work needs to be done, she wonders why one lane couldn’t be left open to allow traffic to continue through the municipality. She also suggested moving the road closure sign to Fanny Bay instead, so tourists would still visit the community.

In an email, the ministry said it acknowledges the effect the closure will have on businesses, but wasn’t able to comment on why the road work couldn’t be completed with one lane left open.

The road work involves installing an 11-metre open-bottom culvert, which takes longer to install than a standard closed-bottom culvert, the ministry wrote. The work must be done during the summer months when water levels are lower.

Gil Campbell, owner of the Fanny Bay Trading Co., shares O’Brien’s concerns.

“This is it. This is the gravy months,” Campbell said. “June, July, August and September are our big months.”

Campbell said he found out about the closure on Aug. 3, just over a week before it goes into effect Aug. 12 to Sept. 20.

In addition to concerns about his business, Campbell is worried that the closing will put at unnecessary risk cyclists who would normally have travelled along the Old Island Highway, because they’ll be forced to ride along the busier four-lane inland highway.

Daniel Arbour, who represents the area as director with the Comox Valley Regional District, said he is usually given more notice before major road work like this. He said the short notice created a lot of panic in the area.

“It’s a very scenic road. In the summertime we see a lot of people normally choosing that road if they want to have some stops along the way,” he said.

Arbour said that people in the area are coming together to pledge support for the businesses during the highway closing.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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