Improvements are coming to a narrow logging road on Vancouver Island where members of the local First Nations as well as two university students have lost their lives.
B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser and leaders of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation announced Friday their governments will spend more than $30 million combined over three years to make Bamfield Road safer.
Sunday marks the first anniversary of a bus crash that killed two University of Victoria students and injured many others.
“We cannot undo what has happened, the unfathomable heartbreak for families. But today we are looking ahead to a safer road that will better protect everyone who travels on it,” Fraser said.
Forty-five students and two teaching assistants were headed to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre aboard a chartered bus that moved over for an approaching vehicle and rolled down an embankment.
First-year biology students John Geerdes of Iowa City and Emma Machado of Winnipeg, both 18, died.
In the wake of the crash, the provincial government struck a working group with Huu-ay-aht members and local forest companies to develop safety upgrades for consideration.
The upgrades follow years of advocacy from members of the First Nation and other local communities. Hereditary chief Derek Peters said his grandfather died on the road.
“This is a very respectful way for us to honour and not forget the lives that have been lost on that road,” he said.
‘We share some heavy burdens’
The 76-kilometre road begins at Port Alberni and is the only road link for residents in and around the Bamfield area.
Plumes of dust in the summer obscure visibility while winter rains regularly lead to washouts, making it impassable to even emergency vehicles, Fraser said.
Under the agreement, the province will spend $25.7 million and the Huu-ay-aht will spend $5 million and manage the project with technical support from consulting firm Urban Systems. The Huu-ay-aht will also provide resources, including gravel from pits on their treaty lands, which the government said is expected to result in significant cost savings.
The improvements include seal-coat hard surfacing and new culverts to improve drainage.
Chief Coun. Robert Dennis Sr. said all those who’ve lost loved ones share a common grief.
“We share some heavy burdens and we share losses of loved ones and I’ll look forward to the day when I can meet the families of those students who were lost,” Dennis says.
In addition to improving health and safety on the road, the improvements will generate economic activity for the small coastal communities.