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Detailed answers on Olympic bid are overdue

Whistler officially joined the race for the 2010 Winter Olympics Jan. 22, although it was Vancouver’s name on the letter submitted to the IOC.

Whistler officially joined the race for the 2010 Winter Olympics Jan. 22, although it was Vancouver’s name on the letter submitted to the IOC.

And the new logo, with the Vancouver name, was shown publicly for the first time last week at the opening of the bid corporation’s new Whistler office. Bid corporation President and CEO Jack Poole was on hand for the opening, as was Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen, bid COO John Furlong and Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly. They’re all off to Salt Lake City in the next few days to observe how things go at the 2002 Olympics and tell anyone who asks about the Vancouver 2010 bid.

And when they return there may finally be some solid information on what the 2010 bid will look like. Meetings in Whistler to discuss the legacies of a successful 2010 bid are scheduled for Feb. 20 and 23. Presumably that means there will be some substantial details about things such as the athletes village, media village, transportation systems and special sport facilities, like the bobsleigh track. Any new information would be welcome.

For the last few months there have been some hints and suggestions about these issues, but dental extractions are usually less painful than trying to get an answer to a question about what the Olympics in Whistler would look like.

Transportation is one of the key issues. It has been called the bid’s "Achilles heel" by bid chair Marion Lay. Poole has told cabinet there are "rocks the size of cars" coming down on Highway 99 and that without highway improvements the bid will be lost.

We’ve also heard from some bid officials, albeit some time ago, that the bid can be won even if there are no improvements to Highway 99. And recently there was information that suggested the highway isn’t an issue at all with European Olympic officials.

As for transportation solutions, there has been talk of a third lane built between Squamish and Whistler and additional passing lanes added between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish. At a fireside chat in Whistler in December it was strongly implied that buses would be the transportation solution, one leaving Vancouver every 15 seconds. There has also been talk of using ferries between Vancouver and Squamish, but no hints at where the ferries would come from. West Coast Express double decker rail cars may also be added to the B.C. Rail line to help carry people between North Vancouver and Whistler.

Any thoughts of high-speed rail lines, monorails and alternative highways can be grouped with Star Trek-type transporter beams in the Fat Chance category.

The Olympic bid corporation has had at least three committees studying transportation, within Whistler, between Whistler and the Callaghan Valley and between Vancouver and Whistler/Callaghan. There is evidence of some innovative thinking, such as using the computer system developed for the Lillehammer Olympics that linked event tickets to seats on buses, so that organizers know exactly how and when people would arrive at each competition.

On a more traditional front, the Ministry of Transportation and Highways last year released a multi-modal study of transportation needs in the Sea to Sky corridor up to the year 2020. The study produced three general options and cost estimates for each.

What is now needed are some specific commitments from the cost-conscious provincial government. And they should be commitments to a long-term transportation solution. Using West Coast Express rail cars, for instance, may be part of the solution during the Olympics but that alone doesn’t do anything to solve the very real, ongoing transportation problems of the corridor.

Moving the southern passenger terminal of the B.C. Rail line to Lonsdale Quay, where it would integrate with a major bus terminal and the Sea Bus terminal, would be a step toward making rail part of a long-term transportation solution.

Any announcement the Olympic bid corporation or province makes about transportation solutions would likely also mean some new costs for the provincial government. On the heels of massive cuts to public service, new spending for what is still seen by many as the Whistler Olympics isn’t going to be popular. But it is not necessarily money that will be spent immediately. It just has to be committed to in the next few years.

And that’s what Whistler is looking for too, some commitments on what the Olympics will look like.