Traffic heading towards Port Alberni lines up roughly 14 kilometres from the Tofino-Ucluelet junction during Wednesday’s Highway 4 closure from noon to 1 p.m. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

VIDEO: Highway closures hit travellers heading in and out of Tofino and Ucluelet

“I feel that it was ill-advised.”

Highway 4’s anticipated closures have begun.

The provincial and federal governments are splitting a $38 million project to upgrade a particularly curvy 1.6-kilometre stretch of the highway at Kennedy Hill by straightening it out, removing a protruding rock wall and creating a new rest-stop and viewpoint at Kennedy Lake.

The project will force the highway, which is the only road connecting Tofino and Ucluelet to the rest of Vancouver Island, to shut down during scheduled daily and nightly closures and is expected to take roughly two years to complete.

Commuters got their first taste of those closures this week as, from May 28 to June 1, the highway is closed in both directions from 5-7 a.m. and noon to 1 p.m. No closures are expected throughout the weekend, but that same closure schedule will be back in place from June 4-9.

Beginning June 11, the closure schedule will expand with shutdowns expected from 1-4 a.m., 5-7 a.m. noon to 1 p.m. and 10 p.m.-midnight.

The province had initially scheduled the 10 p.m. closure for 9 p.m., but concerns from West Coast residents convinced the ministry to give locals and visitors an extra hour to get through.

“Work started last week away from the highway, falling trees, and now the tree clearing is visible along the highway,” said a spokesperson from B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation. “The ministry and the construction contractor are committed to extensively communicating travel advisories through a variety of channels.”

Drivers began lining up at the west side of the highway closure, roughly 14 kilometres from the Tofino-Ucluelet- junction, as the noon-1 p.m. closure took effect Wednesday afternoon.

“We were supposed to catch a 3:30 ferry and we didn’t expect the closure to happen, so we might miss the ferry and we’re going to have to probably take the next one, which is kind of going to ruin our day,” said Lanre Olabisi who was visiting Tofino from New York. “I don’t think it would affect whether or not we would travel back to Tofino, but it is an inconvenience…We were not expecting this at all. I wish there had been warnings so that we could have made the proper arrangements.”

Ontario residents Chris and Nicola Thomson said they knew about the noon closure, but had hoped to make it through before it began.

“We’re stuck waiting for the pass to be back open. However, we did know about it since there were lots of signs coming both in and out of the area and, I believe, our hotel actually emailed us a few weeks ago to let us know that there would be closures affecting the area,” Nicola said. “We pushed our luck trying to get through before the closure…We just missed out on the closure time.”

Chris added the closures won’t affect the family returning to the West Coast and suggested that, while its surroundings are serene, the road needed an upgrade.

“It’s a beautiful ride as it is, so it will be nice to have the road in decent shape for this beautiful scenery,” he said.

Ucluelet local Rich Parlee said he’s more concerned about the project’s price-tag than the closures.

“I’m retired, so I can work around the inconveniences. It may affect my health because I’m so annoyed that they would spend $38 million on 1.6 kilometres while the rest of the road is very rough,” he said. “I feel that it was ill-advised. Perhaps it’s a political present to somebody, but not to me. So, I will be mildly affected by the closures and greatly affected by the tax bill. First, it started below $30 million, then it went to $30 million now it’s $38.1 million and everybody knows the clock is running…I’ll get through it, but I don’t like it.”

The province has launched a website to provide updates on the project and daily updates can be heard by calling 1-855-451-7152.

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