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B.C. promising summer finish for troubled Tofino/Ucluelet highway project

$54 million Kennedy Hill project should be ‘substantially’ done minus a few fall touches
After kicking off in 2018, the Kennedy Hill project was originally slated for completion in the summer of 2020 (Ministry of Transportation)

Melissa Renwick, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter Ha-Shilth-Sa

Despite getting hit by record-breaking rainfall and cold, snowy conditions throughout the fall and winter, the Highway 4 Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement Project remains on track, according to the Ministry of Transportation.

“The project is expected to be substantially completed by summer 2022, with finishing touches continuing throughout the fall,” the ministry said.

After kicking off in 2018, the construction project was originally slated for completion in the summer of 2020.

When rockfall from a blast compromised the road, a significant three-day road closure followed in January 2020. The event left Tofino, Ucluelet and the surrounding First Nations communities cut off from the rest of Vancouver Island.

“Given that this project is dealing with the only route to and from the coast, it has been very challenging for everyone living and traveling here due to regular road closures as well as extended and unforeseen road closures,” said Laura McDonald, Tofino Long-Beach Chamber of Commerce president. “This has impacted businesses and residents in a variety of ways, including increased travel time, costs and inconvenience.”

The project was placed on hold for three months in the spring of 2020 so the contractor could revisit their blasting plans, following “repeated issues” with operations, the ministry said.

It was later announced that its completion date was pushed back to winter 2021, and that the budget had increased from $38.1 million to $53.96 million.

“This is a complex project that includes removing over 150,000 cubic metres of rock along 1.5 kilometres of highway by blasting rock bluffs more than 50 metres high,” the ministry said.

After years of delays, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (TFN) Tribal Administrator Jim Chisholm said he isn’t confident the project will be complete by summer 2022.

“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, Chisholm added.

“It’s had a huge impact on us,” he said.

Since 2018, TFN Natural Resources Manager Saya Masso 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 means a return to some normalcy and will “relieve a lot of pressure.”

“Once complete, the Highway 4 - Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement Project will create a safer and more reliable connection between Port Alberni and the west coast of Vancouver Island,” the ministry said.

RELATED: COVID-19: Construction scaled back on the West Coast Highway to Tofino/Ucluelet

RELATED: New Hwy. 4 closure schedule “simply does not work’ for Tofino and Ucluelet