Highway 99 may well on the road to losing the misnomer the Killer Highway as the provincial government prepares to straighten Power Line Hill and widen the treacherous Cheakamus Canyon section.
West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA David Mitchell says he has confirmation from Jackie Pement, Minister of Highways, that the straightening of the deadly S-curve at Power Line Hill, south of Whistler, is going to be the "number one priority" for the Ministry of Transportation and Highways in 1995. Mitchell says he expects the cost of the project to be revealed in this spring's provincial budget.
Power Line Hill, with its dangerous sweeping curves and limited visibility has been the site of a number of tragic accidents over the past few winters and Mitchell says the local lobby to get the corner dealt with has been heard in Victoria.
Power line Hill will be straightened and broadened and six kilometres of road through the Cheakamus Canyon will be widened. Mitchell was unsure about the time it would take to retrofit Power Line Hill, but the Cheakamus section is of "such a magnitude" that it will probably take two years to complete.
"The money to upgrade the Cheakamus Canyon portion of Highway 99 will come from B.C. 21 and I have some very positive indications from the minister responsible, Glen Clark, that the project is being looked at," Mitchell says. "I'm hoping that we'll get confirmation on both of these when the budget comes down in March."
Mitchell says the projects are being fast-tracked on their necessity only, not by the fact that the NDP may be shopping for votes in the corridor as a provincial election looms just around the corner.
"The truth is the NDP know they are never going to win this riding so they're not putting money into electioneering," he says. "They're addressing a serious safety issue, not partisan politics."
Politics aside, Mitchell says many of the recent fatal accidents on Highway 99, with the exception of Power Line Hill, don't take place on traditionally dangerous parts of the road. Accidents have been taking place in areas with more lanes, improved visibility and wider shoulders as drivers disregard speed limits and highway conditions.
"The issue is not really about the road itself, it is turning out to be quite a safe highway," Mitchell says. "It's some of the drivers who are on the highway that aren't overly safe. Safe drivers make safer highways."