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Sea-to-Sky transportation study calls for highway, railway improvements

Increased growth in the corridor’s number of residents and visitors, 2010 Olympic bid cited as impetus Growth along the Sea-to-Sky corridor from Horseshoe Bay to Pemberton is shifting into overdrive.

Increased growth in the corridor’s number of residents and visitors, 2010 Olympic bid cited as impetus

Growth along the Sea-to-Sky corridor from Horseshoe Bay to Pemberton is shifting into overdrive.

According to a recently released study by the B.C. government, the region’s population could triple in the next 25 years, from today’s 33,000 to 100,000.

Add in the corridor’s popularity as a recreation and tourist destination plus the 2010 Olympic bid and – voila! – you get one busy highway.

Highway 99 – also known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway – is the subject of a major Ministry of Transportation and Highways study that stretches from West Vancouver to the junction of Highways 99 and 97 north of Cache Creek.

The 94-page Multi-Modal Corridor Transportation Study, prepared by Burnaby, B.C.-based engineering consultants Reid Crowther and Partners Ltd., considers the region’s transportation needs for the next quarter-century, including those for tourism, commuting, commercial traffic and the Olympic bid.

The report’s major findings suggest the section of asphalt that stretches between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish be expanded to four lanes. The study also recommends that a new express train system be put into service in the corridor.

The report does not make any specific recommendations and is not a market-condition analysis for any particular mode of transportation, but does offer information to help federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments determine viable solutions and development options.

According to the report, close to 14,000 vehicles currently use the highway each day. More than 19,000 vehicles use the highway on weekends.

Winter weekends are considered to be the busiest – with Friday and Sunday evening rush hours – but summer weekends are quickly catching up are predicted to become even busier.

In addition to the above mentioned findings, the study identifies three other possible solutions to solving the corridor’s transportation woes.

• Widening Highway 99 to four lanes between Horseshoe Bay and Whistler, including new tunnels, at a cost of $1.34 billion

• Improving inter-city bus service and facilities, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, "queue jumper" lanes, widening highway shoulders and adding more highway signs and markers. The cost is estimated to be $365 million.

• Expanding passenger rail service along the B.C. Railway line at peak-demand times, offering up to five passenger trains per day. This solution is geared mainly towards commuters and would be similar to the West Coast Express that shuttles between the Fraser Valley and downtown Vancouver. Cost is estimated to be $745 million.

According to the study, the Sea-to-Sky corridor will also see increased growth from recreational users headed to the region’s ski resorts, provincial parks and backcountry areas.

The report notes that the corridor south of Squamish will see the highest rate of growth. An estimated 2,000 commuters currently make the trip from Squamish to the Lower Mainland each day.

But Highway 99, which is prone to fatal accidents, bad weather, rockslides and lengthy delays, is also known by couple of other names. Olympic bid organizers have called the Sea-to-Sky Highway an "Achilles heel," which could derail any hopes of hosting the Games, and the media have coined the narrow two-lane roadway as the "Killer Highway."

According to an Insurance Corp. of B.C. study that was released earlier this year, the highway saw the site of more than 2,500 accidents over the past five years, which included 1,300-plus injuries and 26 fatalities.

The ICBC study blames human error and inexperienced drivers as the main cause of accidents, although changing weather conditions are considered to be a factor.

The recent Sea-to-Sky transportation study does not, however, mention the fact that Highway 99 and the B.C. Railway line both pass through the Garibaldi Civil Defense Zone, located between Whistler and Squamish.

That area is exempt from development because of an unstable rock wall, known as the Barrier, that holds back Garibaldi Lake above Rubble Creek.

Studies have concluded that the area – including the highway and rail line – could be subject to a massive landslide.

B.C. highways are thought to be the most dangerous in Canada, due to the province’s unique mix of geography and climate. There are seven mountain ranges in B.C. and roadways can be exposed to a myriad of weather conditions.

A recent accident on Highway 3’s Kootenay Pass between Salmo and Creston caused five deaths. At 1,700 metres, that road is the province’s highest mountain pass.

Other high-traffic mountain passes include Cayoosh Pass on Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet, which is included in the Sea-to-Sky study; Coquihalla Pass on Highway 5 between Hope and Merritt; Rogers Pass on the Trans-Canada Highway between Revelstoke and Golden; and Allsion Pass on Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton.

The provincial government has also released a report studying the effects of the proposed Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal expansion on local residents.

That report finds that plans for more toll booths, a larger car-holding area, a new foot-passenger building and an expanded parkade will not affect local quality-of-life issues.

Residents have expressed concerns about air quality and related health problems. The project had been on hold while the report was done.

West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Ted Nebbeling could not be reached by Pique Newsmagazine for comment. Nebbeling, a former Whistler mayor, is also the provincial minister responsible for the 2010 Olympic bid.




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