The long-awaited Sombrio Bridge, which is expected to increase motorist safety and bolster economic tourism, opened to the public on Monday.
The Sombrio Bridge replaces a 55-year-old single-lane, wooden structure and eliminates a narrow and dangerous switch back on Highway 14.
The two-lane, steel and concrete bridge is east of Port Renfrew and measures 124 metres long.
“This bridge which we’re about to open will replace the nastiest switch back possibly in North America,” said Mike Hicks, Juan de Fuca regional director, at a press conference on Dec. 9.
“This bridge will immediately prevent many motorcycle accidents and deaths attributed to the switch back, and will finally secure the safety of the Port Renfrew and Pacheedaht children travelling every day to school.”
The opening of the Sombrio Bridge also marks the completion of the Pacific Marine Circle Route, which Hicks said will, “guarantee economic prosperity for years for Port Renfrew, Jordan River and the Juan de Fuca.”
Ida Chong, Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA, said she was pleased the provincial government identified the Sombrio Bridge as a priority.
“We are here to celebrate and the celebration is: $12.6 million went into making sure the Sombrio Bridge project was complete,” she said.
“For South Vancouver Island, $12.6 million is a substantial amount and I’m very glad… this particular road was the road that was one of the priorities of our government.”
In addition to providing safer passage to tourists, residents and commercial traffic, Chong said the Sombrio Bridge could also serve as an alternative to the Malahat.
“Should there be unfortunate incidents where the Malahat has to be closed down, this can be, although may not be as publicized, an alternative to the route to get back in the South Island.”
Ron Gibbins, Port Renfrew BC Ambulance unit chief, said the road improvements will decrease motor-vehicle accidents, and greatly improve safety for emergency personnel and patients.
“Driving down that section of highway (the switch back) in the middle of the night in a snowstorm with a patient and a partner in the back, it’s not for the faint of heart.”
He said in just over a year, an area leading up to the switch back had about 14 motorcycle accidents.
The $12.6 million Sombrio Bridge project also included the repair and resurfacing of 5.4 kilometres of Highway 14, east of Sombrio to Lines Creek.
The project, which the province started in 2009, also includes a viewpoint 500 metres north of the Sombrio Bridge, overlooking the Olympic Peninsula.
Windley Contracting was contracted to complete the project, which created over 125 jobs.