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Highway 99 construction to commence in fall

Construction to add third lane between Function Junction and the village

Highway 99 between Whistler Village and Function Junction is up for a facelift starting in the fall.

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation confirmed that construction is soon to begin on the stretch of highway that will create a third lane, to provide increased safety and cycling space.

The construction will also include improvements to three existing bus stops: one just north of the Nordic overpass, another north of the entrance to Brio and one more south of Lake Placid Road.

“It consists of some widening to accommodate a bike lane, so a broader shoulder and some bus pullouts,” Whistler Councillor Tim Wake said of the work.

Jeff Knight, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation, said by e-mail that preliminary design for the improvements was completed last January and that work has been concentrated on “detailed design plans” since February. Once detailed design is finished, the ministry will prepare documents for contractors to prepare bids for construction.

That step is expected to be complete next month, when the projects go to tender, according to Knight. Overall, he expects construction to begin in early fall and to be complete in fall 2009.

Wake said the project will also include some improvements to the Nordic hill area, which he said has been a hazard for drivers in the wintertime.

“The Nordic hill is a common location for traffic disruptions in the winter during major snow events,” he said. “The (Ministry of Transportation) did an engineering study of the hill last year and found out it has not only a grade that is the steepest grade within Whistler, but it also has a slope off to the side that’s quite steep. As a result, vehicles tend to lose traction on that hill.”

The hill will thus be “re-graded” in order to limit traffic disruption, according to Wake.

Knight, however, said modifications to Nordic hill will depend on the results of geotechnical and environmental investigations currently taking place.

“The plans are almost complete,” he wrote to Pique via e-mail.

Though the project is expected to be finished in time for the 2010 Olympics, there have been a couple of problems encountered along the way. One is the technical challenge of the work, which comes because the highway improvements must be done in concert with some other work with B.C. Hydro.

“B.C. Hydro is doing substantial upgrades and burying cable in the highway right of way for the 2010 Games,” Wake said. “That work has to go on, (it) makes the most sense for it to go on concurrently with the highway improvements.”

Knight also confirmed that blasting will have to be done as part of the highway improvements. Though the amount of blasting has yet to be determined, he said there will be 10 locations requiring “rock cuts that vary in size,” though he did not confirm which locations those would be.

Knight did not indicate how much the project would cost, saying that the Ministry of Transportation does not want to prejudice the bid process.