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Highway upgrades mobilized

Two years out from Games time construction budget has not been approved for local upgrades

The building blocks are in place to get Highway 99 through Whistler in shape for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

The Ministry of Transportation has drawn up the preliminary design, which includes tentative plans for extending the Valley Trail to the athletes’ village, upgrading the bus bay system and improving the slope on Nordic Hill.

The project is expected to go out to tender by early summer, with a construction schedule set after that. But Joyce Chang, a representative from the transportation ministry, said that the budget for the project has not yet been approved.

“It is probably too far in the future to know when construction will begin,” she said.

“We are actually doing the design work right now to see what needs to be done, and what are the cost estimates. Funding is another question for later on.”

Project plans follow a Transportation Advisory Group (TAG) meeting held last month, as well as an open house and information session held approximately a year and a half ago.

Plans to rework Nordic Hill were added following the open house and are still being solidified.

“Basically what happened at the (January) meeting is that the Ministry of Transportation gave the update that they are going ahead with this project,” said Tim Wake, chair of TAG.

“The stakeholder group gave the message back that they really hoped the Nordic Hill would be part of it.”

Nordic Hill is a problematic area on Highway 99, especially during the winter as vehicles often get stuck and cause traffic congestion.  

  A consultant, ISL Engineering and Land Services, examined this area and found that the geometries of the road do not meet current roadway standards. The section also did meet the standards of the day when it was originally constructed.

According to Chang, the consultant is now looking at reducing the road’s elevation grades.

Despite the fact that details are still being hammered out, Wake said the project should be completed within the next two years.

“I am pretty confident the project will get done before the Olympics, and the Ministry of Transportation is on track to do that,” said Wake.

“Part of the challenge is the Nordic Hill work, since the solution there is probably the most time consuming and disruptive, and of course we are concerned about highway disruption leading up to the games. What is better: Not to get the upgrade done, or to get the upgrade done but have severe disruption between now and the Games?”

He added that traffic volumes are just as high in the summer as they are in the winter, so there is no ideal time for the construction to take place.

The upgrades are being done in combination with the Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project, also overseen by the Ministry of Transportation.

“This is a major project for the Whistler valley,” said Brian Barnett, general manager of environmental services.

“The Sea to Sky project ends at the Function Junction intersection, and this is all the work necessary within the valley to really complete the highway upgrade. This is larger than minor improvements that get done from time to time.”