The provincial government may have put an end to 35 years of analysis, suggestions and talk about building a new road connecting Port Alberni to Parksville Qualicum Beach.
The province announced this week it is launching engineering work for Highway 4 corridor upgrades and safety improvements, following a review of the Highway 4 Horne Lake Connector business case, which the Ministry of Transportation says concluded that an alternative route between Port Alberni and Highway 19 is not financially feasible.
“As part of our commitment through B.C. on the Move, we assessed the costs and benefits of an alternative connection between the Island Highway and Port Alberni,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone. “We have concluded that the costs of constructing and maintaining a new highway outweigh the expected benefits for travellers. Moving forward, we are looking at making a number of improvements to ensure this section of Highway 4, which is vital to Vancouver Island’s economy, continues to meet the needs of the communities it serves.”
Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Kim Burden said he was neither surprised nor disappointed by the announcement. He said the east side of the Island does have quite a few operations that utilize the port facilities in Alberni.
“It is important for us to get goods to market and we have a lot of exporters here,” said Burden, who won a recent byelection to join Parksville city council. “But we haven’t heard anyone expressing problems with that.”
The need for a secondary access to Port Alberni from Highway 19 and 19A would have been greater if the Raven coal mine project was going to happen.
“When there was talk of a coal mine, then it would have been very important,” said Burden. “I think it’s a good idea to have more than one access point — we only have really one access point to Parksville (from the south). But that’s the reality of living on the Island.”
The estimated total cost of pursuing a Horne Lake Connector would be about $92 million. The province said through a news release “investing approximately $24 million in improvements to the existing highway is projected to have a comparable return in terms of safety and user benefits.”
“While the new route would result in travel-time savings for the eight per cent of travellers going to and from the North Island, the remaining 92 per cent of travellers would see no net benefit,” according to the Ministry of Transportation.
“As such, the government of British Columbia is not considering the building of a Horne Lake connector route at this time. Instead, government will focus on upgrades to improve the safety, mobility and reliability of Highway 4 between Port Alberni and Highway 19.”
The transportation ministry said it is initiating engineering work on the following projects:
• safety improvements at Cathedral Grove, which is an increasingly popular tourist destination where the demand for parking now exceeds the room available in the busy summer tourist season;
• extension of the westbound passing lane near the Port Alberni “Hump” including improvements at the brake check to improve corridor mobility and commercial vehicle safety;
• an upgrade to the Highway 4/Highway 19 interchange by adding a westbound acceleration lane for drivers exiting Highway 19 and merging onto Highway 4; and
• widening the highway at Angel Rock, using a retaining wall structure to allow both sides to have roadside barriers as well as wider shoulders.
Over the past five years, the government says it has invested approximately $1.8 million in safety enhancements along this 40-kilometre stretch of highway, including:
• a new left-turn lane at Whiskey Creek;
• a roadside barrier near Cameron Lake;
• centre line rumble strips between Qualicum and Port Alberni;
• better roadside delineation at various locations; and
• seasonal speed-reader boards to remind travellers of the reduced speed limit through Cathedral Grove.