The Mahalat reopened to traffic during the early morning hours, just in time for the Friday commute.
A late morning crash Thursday closed southern Vancouver Island’s main north-south artery at Goldstream Provincial Park for roughly 13 hours after a two-vehicle crash involving a small fuel truck and a passenger van.
The closure was originally estimated to last until 10 p.m. Thursday, then 4 a.m. Friday, but crews were able to open the roadway at around 12:40 a.m. Friday.
The cause of the crash is unknown at this time.
Langford Fire Chief Chris Aubrey confirmed Thursday the fuel truck was carrying up to 2,200 litres of furnace oil. While furnace oil and diesel from the truck’s fuel tank leaked onto the roadway, Aubrey was unable to confirm how much was spilled.
He was, however, optimistic that crews were able to contain the spill and prevent it from leaking into the river.
Motorists and B.C. Transit passengers were able to detour around the crash via the Pacific Marine Route through Sooke and Port Renfrew. A pilot vehicle was also leading cars along Finlayson Arm Road in alternating directions for several hours Thursday afternoon.
B.C. Ferries also offered three additional sailings leaving from both Mill Bay and Brentwood Bay in an effort to meet some of the increased demand.
But this isn’t the first time a fuel truck crash on this stretch of roadway has resulted in a significant closure.
Back in 2011, a Victoria-bound fuel truck rolled and crashed into the rock face in roughly the same area of the Malahat. That truck spilled roughly 42,000 litres of gasoline and 700 litres of diesel into a culvert that emptied into the popular fish-bearing stream in Goldstream Provincial Park.
The dramatic crash killed hundreds or possibly thousands of fish in Goldstream River and closed the Malahat for nearly 24 hours, stranding hundreds of drivers.
Eleven months after the crash, soil vapor extraction equipment was still drawing fuel out of the ground at two locations — next to the crash site on the highway and one area next to the river.
The crash response and poor communication with drivers forced the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to reassess how it manages highway closures.
In 2011, it took four hours to establish a detour route around the fuel truck crash, which was unacceptably long, according to an internal audit by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
The closure was originally estimated to last four hours but ended up shutting down the highway for 22 hours.
A 21-page report on incident found the ministry’s communication with the public during the closure — made solely through updates on the DriveBC website — was insufficient to help drivers make informed route choices.
Premier John Horgan, who at the time was the Juan de Fuca NDP MLA, was among those interviewed for the report and said although he tried to bring up issues around rail and other possible routes, those suggestions didn’t make the final draft.
“I had people from the Cowichan Valley tell me they missed medical appointments in Victoria because of the closure,” Horgan said at the time. “If the rail had been there, it would have been an option for people to get here without using their car.”
Transportation critics having been calling on the provincial government for years to design a new route for the Malahat to help reduce the number of collisions.
Chris Foord, a transportation planner for the past 40 years, told the Gazette back in September the current infrastructure on the Malahat is “totally inadequate” for the region and believes a new route should be carved out to replace the existing stretch of roadway.
“We should be embarking on designing a brand new alignment and new route up and over the Malahat, so that every fuel tanker that goes through the region doesn’t have to negotiate the windy, curvy road through Goldstream Park,” said Foord, who is also the vice chair of the Capital Regional District’s traffic safety commission. “I see this as a glaring deficiency. I see it like a giant sinkhole in the middle of the road that no one seems to notice.”
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