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Bamfield Road resurfacing project complete, four years after tragedy

Speakers acknowledge families of UVic students who died in bus crash on same road

More than four years after a fatal bus crash, safety upgrades have been completed on the road between Port Alberni and Bamfield.

On Tuesday, Oct. 10, elected officials and community members gathered at the end of Bamfield Main to celebrate the official opening of the newly chip-sealed road.

Robert Dennis Sr., who was the Chief Councillor for Huu-ay-aht First Nations at the time the work started on the road, said it’s been a long time coming. Huu-ay-aht members primarily reside around the village of Anacla, near Bamfield, approximately 85 kilometres southwest from Port Alberni. The only way to access the remote community is by boat or by this active industrial road.

“I’ve heard different words this morning,” Dennis said. “‘Transformative,’ ‘a great drive.’ It’s good to hear all those things about the road.”

He took a moment to acknowledge the families of John Geerdes and Emma Machado. Both Geerdes and Machado were killed in the 2019 bus crash, when a chartered bus carrying University of Victoria students slid off the road on its way to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre for a school field trip.

READ MORE: Bamfield Road safety concerns resurface after fatal bus crash

READ MORE: Coroner says lack of seatbelts a factor in fatal Bamfield Road UVic bus crash

It was shortly after the bus crash, in 2020, that Huu-ay-aht partnered with the province on the “Bamfield Main Road Reconciliation Project” to chip seal the road and make some additional safety improvements.

John Jack, the current Chief Councillor for Huu-ay-aht, said that the two governments will be collaborating on a strategy to maintain the road and prepare for the economic growth that will follow.

“This is an amazing day,” he said. “It’s another step in developing our community and our lands in a way that diversifies us into things that aren’t just natural resource-based. This is something that can form the basis of a new type of economy for the area and really provide the infrastructure for our people to get to and from the rest of Vancouver Island more safely and more reliably.”

Although Jack says the trip between Port Alberni and Bamfield is a little bit quicker on the newly-resurfaced road, he emphasized that speed limits have not changed. The posted speed limit is still 60 km/h.

“We would very much like for people to continue to go that speed limit,” he said. “There is still a risk because the road narrows and is winding in quite a few areas. So we do need to make sure that everyone who rides this road knows that we did it for safety and we did it for reliability—not necessarily for speed.”

Along with the chip sealing, contractors also installed guard rails at several spots along the road, including at the site of the fatal bus crash. Jack says they also replaced more than 200 culverts and improved drainage.

“We expect maintenance to be at the same cost or lower,” said Jack. “This is something that, if maintained, can carry us into the future in a good way. We need to make sure we’re on top of the potholes as they appear during the winter season.”

Jack acknowledged all the advocates who were “instrumental” in helping to kick start the road resurfacing project, including former Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser, who was present at the ribbon-cutting on Tuesday.

Jack also acknowledged current MLA Josie Osborne, Murray Rankin (the minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation), former Premier John Horgan, Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.

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Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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