Dear Editor, (Sent October 13, 2023 – Published October 24 Issue of AVNews note: printed version omitted final sentence with E&N, but the digital version was the full letter)

It was wonderful to see the ribbon cutting on Bamfield Road. Once upon a time I rode that bus to Bamfield Marine Station on that same field trip. It is tragic that those two families and the others involved have a much different memory than mine. We should not have to wait for tragedy for action. Those are the same words I heard expressed by Ditidaht residents to consultants for the Government this summer during the forum on inter-community transportation. The sorry state of the Lake Cowichan road never got looked at by the Ministry except when the fire happened this summer.

That’s unacceptable. The benefits to Huu-ay-aht, Bamfield, Ditidaht, Port Alberni and the whole region from the Cowichan route are obvious. The goal should be extending Highway 14/18 to Port Alberni. And here’s a bonus: if those Highways entered Port Alberni at Ship Creek and joined Highway 4 at Johnston, that’s a big chunk of road maintenance off Port Alberni taxpayer’s backs.

Let’s all paddle together and go with where the money is already flowing. For the larger topic of more efficient and resilient transportation to the entire Island and beyond, the best and cheapest option remains an electrified railway which is still the only corridor not cut off by fire or flood for weeks at a time over the past 110 years.

Sincerely

Chris Alemany

Addendum for Online: I was on the Alberni Clayoquot Transportation Committee from 2015 to its conclusion in 2016 after the Ministry reported out (Nov 2016 Press ReleaseStudy concludes Highway 4 improvements outweigh investment in connector“). You can find that report here.

A full history of the various reports done on routes in and out of the Alberni Valley and their conclusions is available on this page at VIByRail.ca.

The final estimated cost of the Horne Lake route was $91 Million (2015 dollars). In 2023 it’s hard to imagine what that cost would be but it’s probably not unreasonable to double or triple it.

My main concerns with the Horne Lake route were always threefold:

  1. It was less safe: Higher speed due to use of Highway 19, showed a higher accident rate, and it was also in a much more treacherous weather location with a much higher average elevation than Highway 4, exposure to higher winds and snow, and longer climbing and descent grades for trucks.
  2. Private Property costs and opposition: Unlike any other route, Horne Lake is surrounded by a unique chunk of private land owners and cabins on the lake shore. This group is very aware of the risks of having a highway through their otherwise remote area and are ready to fight it. Even if they agreed to sell, the costs to purchase their properties today would only add to the astronomical prices. Mosaic Forest Corporation will also ask to be compensated for purchase of their lands and roads for a public highway.
  3. Similarity to Highway 4: The final reason, and I believe a major reason the Ministry did not choose to build the Connector, is because the resulting highway would end up being very similar to the existing Highway 4. It would feature the same kinds of tight corners and steep grades, it would go through a Provincial Park at Horne Lake Caves, and it would feature dangers from rockslide and fire (including the major rock slide area on the north side of Horne Lake). By comparison, the costs to upgrade and improve Highway 4 by changing alignments and the other improvements listed in their report ($25 Million), plus now the work done at Angel Rock, will benefit that route significantly.

This is why I believe if we are looking for permanent solutions to improve transportation on the entire Island for all Islanders including Port Alberni and West Coast residents, then focusing on the critical but long under-served Lake Cowichan/Bamfield route is the much wiser option.

For the wider Island as a whole, investing in rebuilding and electrifying the railway to interconnect the major hubs, and provide a brand new option for residents and business would be extremely beneficial and the most efficient use of the taxpayer money we have at our disposal.

The Island Railway sits unused in August 2023 as thousands of cars sit for hours on Highway 4 just steps away from the tracks. The railway was not impacted by the June 2023 fire or the November 2021 Atmospheric Rivers

An added bonus for the Lake Cowichan route: Greater chance of people seeing and appreciating the unique and beautiful Vancouver Island Roosevelt Elk!

A young male Roosevelt Elk stands on the side of the road near Youbou, BC on Highway 18 as traffic from the detour go by.

By the way, you’ll find on that VIByRail Page, at the very bottom, this conclusion:

“The [2004] Valley Link Report, the most positive assessment was for a road linking Port Alberni and Lake Cowichan… the only road built to date from the Valley Link report was the recommendation for a link between Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan.”

This remains true 20 years later.