The long delays Highway 4 travelers face as they travel between Port Alberni and Tofino and Ucluelet are about to get worse.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure issued a traffic advisory April 14 stating that more major blasting work needs to be done during daylight hours.
On March 16 the Kennedy Hill construction zone was closed for 10 hours to conduct major blasting safely, during daylight hours. At that time, boulders the size of houses were blasted off of the rock face. But there’s much more work that needs to be done.
In order to finish the work, a schedule for ongoing blasting work planned for Highway 4 at Kennedy Hill has been set.
“Drivers are advised a section of Highway 4 at Kennedy Hill will be closed from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on five consecutive Wednesdays starting on April 28, 2021, for the blasting and removal of a significant rock bluff,” says a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure press release.
The mid-week, 10-hour closures are required for crews to undertake multiple complex blasts on the project in an area of the bluff directly above the road repair site where a temporary bridge had to be used in spring 2020. At that time, a nighttime blasting mishap took out a large portion of the road, closing it for a few days until a temporary bridge could be brought in.
According to the ministry, the daylight closure will allow workers time to prepare the road beneath the blast area at this previous repair location, and to safely and efficiently scale and remove loose rock from the bluff immediately following the blast before reopening the road.
“[P]reparation in advance of each blast is required for these next five scheduled blasts,” states the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. “This includes protecting the road surface from a large boulder falling onto the surface above the previous repair site, which is necessary to preserve the overall integrity of the road.”
The Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement project began in September 2018. It set out to widen and straighten a notoriously dangerous 1.5-kilometre section of Highway 4 that hugs the cliffs above Kennedy Lake.
This section of the highway, a former logging road, is steep, narrow and has blind corners.
It is the only east-west corridor on Vancouver Island servicing the west coast communities of Ucluelet and Tofino as well as the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve at Long Beach. This is a critical route for moving goods, linking communities, and supporting a thriving tourism industry in the region.
The $38 million project was expected to be complete in September 2020 but construction issues coupled with pandemic safety orders have considerably delayed progress.
The closures are set to begin April 28 and will continue every Wednesday until June.
The ministry stated that it is anticipated that after May, the complex high-risk blasting required on the remaining bluff will be substantially completed, and no further 10-hour closures will be needed to complete the project. It is expected that after the completion of these blasts, the contractor will be closer to moving to night-time blasting, as the busier summer months approach.
The regular project closure schedule of four-hour road closures on weekdays between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. will continue on the other weekdays.
An update on the overall project schedule is expected to be available following the completion of these remaining complex and high-risk blasts.
For more information about the Highway 4 Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement Project and scheduled closures visit contractor Emil Anderson Construction’s Facebook page.