British Columbia

Vancouver Island road where bus rolled has been object of safety complaints for years, say local leaders

The chief councillor of the First Nations in Bamfield, B.C. says the narrow, winding gravel road where two University of Victoria students were killed Friday in a bus rollover has been a safety issue for decades.

No cell service, gas stations or rest stops on narrow gravel road

Police closed the road from Port Alberni to Bamfield on Saturday Sept. 14, 2019. (Dean Stoltz/CHEK News)

The chief councillor of the First Nations in Bamfield, B.C. says the narrow, winding gravel road where two University of Victoria students were killed Friday in a bus rollover has been a safety issue for decades.

The 83-kilometre logging road has no cell service, rest stops or gas stations, according to the Bamfield Chamber of Commerce, and is a regular route for commuters and logging trucks travelling between Bamfield and Port Alberni.

Robert Dennis, chief councillor for the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, was driving home with his wife Saturday when they passed the scene.

Dennis said he's been trying for years to get the provincial government to heed calls to improve safety along what he describes as a "dangerous" stretch of road.

"I've been chief councillor for 21 years, and I have been knocking on every Liberal government, every NDP government, to get our road fixed," said Dennis.

The bus was travelling from Port Alberni, B.C. to Bamfield and was carrying 48 people including the driver, according to the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria

Two students died and 17 others were taken to hospital when the bus rolled off an embankment on a gravel road while on its way to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre. 

The village of Bamfield is located on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island.

On its website, the Bamfield Chamber of Commerce says the road is well maintained and well travelled, but drivers should be aware of its challenges.

Narrow and winding stretches of the road reduce visibility, according to the chamber, and drivers are reminded that the logging trucks that travel the road seven days a week have the right of way. 

"Sometimes when you meet other traffic you are just barely able to get by each other — and in this case they weren't able to," said Dennis.

Sharie Minions, the mayor of Port Alberni, said she and the Huu-ay-aht First Nations wrote to Premier John Horgan recently asking for improvements to the road conditions. 

"Today, we are seeing the tragic reason why," said Minions.

Western Forest Products says it holds road permits for sections of the road. In a statement it said it is heartbroken to learn of the tragedy.

"We understand the RCMP are investigating and it would be premature to speculate on the cause of the incident and conditions of the road yesterday evening," said Babita Khunkhun the company's senior director of communications.

RCMP have closed the road while it continues its investigation.

now