Monday, April 18, 2011

I was inadvertently caught up in the closure of the Malahat this weekend, seeing as my two oldest kids, their five children and my ex-husband had all popped down to Victoria from Courtenay for a "quick" visit with my ex's new grandson.
The plan was to bomb to Victoria and back to Courtenay on the same day. Alas, the 22-hour closure of the Malahat nixed that one. Plans go awry in this world, of course, but watching the ridiculous situation on the Malahat unfold through their experiences really underlined for me how poorly prepared we'd be for any real disaster.
It's never going to be good when the only major route closes down. But what was worse was the inability of those doing cleanup at the scene of the diesel-truck crash to provide any kind of workable estimate of when the highway would reopen, or to quickly provide an alternate route.
For instance, skinny little Finlayson Arm Road was an alternate route, but highway crews didn't get around to allowing passenger cars on it until well over 20 hours after the Malahat crash. The long Port Renfrew-Lake Cowichan route could have been a possibility, but we all know how rough that road is due to years of stalling on fixing it - plus reports were of a three-hour delay for those trying to travel that route.
Travelling via the Mill Bay ferry (four hour delay) or Saltspring Island could also have worked - but only if travellers could have had a decent estimate that helped them gauge whether the extra distance and expense was worth it. From the very start, the updates around when the highway would reopen were way off the mark.
Right after the crash, the estimate was that the road would reopen at 1 a.m. Sunday. Then it was 6:30 a.m. Then it was 9 a.m., then 1 p.m., then 3 p.m. It was after 4 p.m. when traffic was finally allowed through. How was it that nobody had any real idea how long it was going to take to clean up after the accident?
For my kids, it was an inconvenience and a pain in the neck.
For other travellers, though, that delay might have cost them an expensive holiday flight. A long-awaited surgery date. A missed wedding or funeral or other big one-off family event. A day at work, not to mention the expense of a hotel room (in very short supply in Victoria on Saturday night) and meals.
Some would have had no access to medication they left at home, never dreaming their quick trip in or out of Victoria was going to be a long one. Others might have even left a youngish child or a pet at home for a couple hours, only to have it turn out to be an overnight odyssey.
We've got to be able to do better.Who was in charge, anyway? If I didn't know better, I'd suspect FEMA.
As for the driver of the overturned fuel truck, he was uninjured, but reports are that he's being investigated for drunk driving. Certainly you have to wonder when a truck jackknifes in a speed zone of 60-70 km/h. 


Sparkle said...

just a note that the Port Renfrew road is a great scenic route now and the highway has been paved and patched in most spots. it's still a long way round but has gorgeous vistas, pristine lakes and creeks for excellent fishing, at least three campgrounds, and lots of old growth forest, though sadly you'll also see the results of years of clear cutting.

I think eventually a bridge over the inlet is the only way to offer a good alternative route to Sidney, the airport and the ferries.

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