It’s not uncommon to hear of accidents along Highway 19 from Deep Bay to Nanoose Bay grinding traffic to a halt, and if someone is lucky enough to find out beforehand, they may be able to avoid it.
But there’s only so many detours, and there aren’t any new plans in the near future.
Janelle Erwin, the regional deputy director for highways in the southern coast, said at this point the province isn’t looking at any other alternate routes for the Parksville Qualicum Beach area.
“While we realize there are closures due to incidents that impact traffic, there are not enough (incidents) to build another route,” Erwin said.
Erwin said that in the late 1990s and early 2000s as Highway 19, or the inland Island Highway, was being built, it was the alternate route. She also said that Highway 19 has enough capacity that drivers are “not really stuck in congestion,” and they’re “not anticipating any capacity constraints in the future.”
Just last Thursday (Nov. 3), two separate accidents on Highway 19 heading southbound toward Northwest Bay Road brought traffic to a halt. The first accident was caused by one driver cutting someone off while the second was because people didn’t react quickly enough to people slowing down for the first accident, according to Cpl. Mike Elston Operations of the Central Vancouver Island Traffic Services. In those cases, Elston said both were driver errors.
The traffic was lined up close to the Northwest Bay Logging Road at one point and once a driver gets on Highway 19 from Parksville and heads south toward Nanoose Bay, it’s about at six-kilometre stretch of road without any detours, except for some logging roads.
Erwin said that in 2015 the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure installed a “vulcan gate” in the Nanoose flats area which is by the rest stop in Nanoose Bay along Highway 19. Erwin said the gate is designed almost as a counterflow lane.
“If there was a northbound accident, emergency workers would be able to shift those travellers onto the southbound lanes,” Erwin said. She added that it’s not used in all circumstances, only if workers anticipate a longer closure and want to keep the traffic moving.
A post on the ministry’s blog says the vulcan gate was installed last fall. The gate replaces part of the concrete median barrier with an emergency access gate which was the first on Vancouver Island highways.
The post says it is one of the “detourless” sections on Highway 19 south of Parksville.
“The section between Rumming and Summerset roads sees about 30,000 vehicles per day, but there are no side roads available to redirect traffic, which means we have to consider splitting the opposite two lanes.”
The post also says the ministry met with local government and police as part of a community safety enhancement on Vancouver Island last year, and “it was clear something needed to be done.”
On March 17, the ministry teamed up with the maintenance contractor, local RCMP and firefighters to test the gate. The blog post said it took about 90 minutes to set up traffic control, open the gate and have the counterflow traffic moving and the same time again to revert traffic back to normal.
Erwin said safety measures, like the vulcan gate, would only be used on stretches of Highway 19 where it’s divided by a median barrier. She also said when drivers get north of Parksville, there’s more of a grassy median between the southbound and northbound lanes that emergency responders would use instead.
“What we try to do is kind of limit the distance or spaces the driver has to go before turning around,” Erwin said.
Last month, a serious two-car accident shut down southbound traffic between the two Parksville exits for about an hour, and after that only one lane was open until the evening. A week before that, Elston said there was an almost identical accident “mere feet” away.
“It seems that every day there is a significant rainfall, we have accidents where someone hydroplanes or on slippery roads ends up going off the road,” Elston said.
From Oct. 1 to Nov. 2, Elston said there were 11 hydroplaning incidents that the Oceanside RCMP attended on the Inland Island Highway between Nanoose Bay to Deep Bay.
In an interview with The NEWS last week, Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce executive director and Parksville city councillor Kim Burden said he thinks it would be a good idea to have more than one access point to Parksville.