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B.C. premier visits Vancouver Island road to discuss safety plan after fatal bus crash

Search and rescue crews and RCMP help a tow truck crew remove a bus from the ditch of a logging road near Bamfield, B.C., on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
Search and rescue crews and RCMP help a tow truck crew remove a bus from the ditch of a logging road near Bamfield, B.C., on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

On Thursday, B.C. Premier John Horgan visited the remote Vancouver Island logging road where two University of Victoria students were killed in a bus crash earlier this year.

According to the Huu-ay-aht First Nation — which relies on the Bamfield main road as its primary route to the rest of the island — Horgan met with members of the Ministry of Transportation, the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District and other local and provincial government officials to discuss safety issues and potential improvements.

By the end of the meeting, the First Nation said agreements were made on the necessary steps required to make “significant upgrades” to the road, which connects Port Alberni to Bamfield.

B.C. premier pressured on Bamfield road
B.C. premier pressured on Bamfield road

“We have met in a respectful way, and it is clear we are all committed to take the necessary steps to reach our nation’s top goal of chip-sealing the Bamfield road,” Chief Coun. Robert J. Dennis Sr. said in a statement on Thursday.

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“By visiting our community, the premier has a better understanding of how important it is to ensure this vital link is safe for all who travel the road.”

READ MORE: Community, First Nations leaders to meet with premier about deadly Bamfield road

The premier’s office confirmed the meeting took place and that a commitment was made to work together on a safety plan for the road.

A followup meeting has also been confirmed with government officials, the office added, but no date was provided.

Horgan was not available to comment directly on the meeting on Thursday.

Family of student killed in bus crash calls for change
Family of student killed in bus crash calls for change

On Sept. 13, a charter bus carrying 45 University of Victoria students and two faculty members was en route to Bamfield’s Marine Sciences Centre when its driver lost control.

The bus plunged some 20 metres down an embankment and rolled over. Two 18-year-old first-year biology students, Emma Machado of Winnipeg and John Geerdes of Iowa, were killed.

Seventeen others were taken to hospital, including the driver.

READ MORE: B.C. premier promises improvements to Vancouver Island road where bus crash killed 2 students

Days after the crash, Horgan vowed to work with the Ministry of Transportation and Western Forest Products, which owns the road, to find ways to upgrade the road and commission an engineering report.

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An initial meeting was held in late September between Horgan and local officials, including the Huu-ay-aht First Nation.

Scott Fraser, the longtime MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim who has spent years advocating for the road to be overhauled, was also present for Thursday’s meeting, the Huu-ay-aht First Nation said, along with Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions.

READ MORE: ‘It was horrific’ — B.C. bus crash survivor launches petition to improve deadly road

The First Nation says an action group will be formed involving the Huu-ay-aht, the Ministry of Transportation and other stakeholders to create an upgrade plan for the road, which will be based off the engineering report.

According to the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, eight of its citizens have been killed since the 85-kilometre unpaved road opened in the 1970s, and “countless” collisions have occurred.

At least four people have been killed in crashes on the route since 1994, according to local news reports. In 2010, a group of Alberta high school students was stranded overnight when their bus ran into trouble on the road.

An online petition started by one of the survivors of the crash to improve safety on the road had gained close to 29,000 signatures as of Friday.