The death of two University of Victoria students on a bus bound for Bamfield has renewed debate on the safety of the gravel logging road in the remote Vancouver Island location.
The bus, carrying 48 people including the driver, rolled Friday night around the 36-kilometre marker near the Carmanah Main Junction en route to the Marine Sciences Centre at Bamfield.
Three people were airlifted to Victoria General Hospital – two in critical condition, one in serious condition. The remaining victims were taken to a reception centre at Echo Centre, set up by the City of Port Alberni, to be bused back to Victoria.
Huu-ay-aht First Nations Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr. was at the scene on Friday night.
“When we got there, we saw lots of lights flashing,” said Dennis. The lights belonged to the cellphones of dozens of students, who had already made it to the roadside and were helping others up with rope. Dennis and his wife stopped to assist.
Dennis says he travels the road between Port Alberni and Bamfield three or four times a week. Although the road is maintained based on logging operations, Dennis said maintenance does not take regular commuters into account. It had been graded only a couple of days earlier, but was already starting to develop large potholes due to the heavy rain earlier in the week, he said.
“I would say 90 per cent of the road is in decent to poor condition,” he added. “Maintenance does not seem to be an operational priority. We sometimes have to make phone calls. It’s not maintained with public safety in mind, in my view.”
Huu-ay-aht First Nations has been actively trying to work with all levels of governments to address the safety challenges of the road for years. Dennis said that he has been discussing the road since he was first elected to his position, almost 21 years ago.
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