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Whistler must prepare for expanded highway, Price says

The Sea to Sky Highway is going to get bigger said Vancouver City Councillor Gordon Price, and Whistler must get prepared.

The Sea to Sky Highway is going to get bigger said Vancouver City Councillor Gordon Price, and Whistler must get prepared.

"One way or another the highway is going to be expanded," he said at a special Association of Area Whistler Residents for the Environment meeting this week.

"Let’s be realistic about it.

"The highway boys haven’t had much of a chance to build anything recently," he joked.

Price raised some serious questions about what that expansion may mean to Whistler during a slideshow presentation at the Delta Whistler Resort.

"Do you have a land use plan for the Cheakmus corridor?" he asked the roughly 40 people gathered at his talk.

Roads inevitably generate sprawl, Price said.

He warned that an expanded highway will change the landscape because it will make it more accessible and therefore more valuable.

Without a land use plan, the effects of sprawling could be very damaging.

Along with the sprawl, there will inevitably be more cars on the road once it gets bigger.

"There’s the belief that the car... has that uncontained right to go wherever it wants," Price said.

Whistler has to be prepared for more cars coming up the corridor.

"You’ve got a limit on bed units. What’s your limit on parking?" he asked.

Putting aside the logistics of sheer volume and impacts on the land, Price questioned the aesthetic implications of blasting through rock on one of the most scenic drives in B.C.

"We should be demanding computer generated images of what that road will look like," he said.

Even though the highway is going to get bigger Price said he does not want to spend more money than necessary to get there, meaning a four-lane freeway is not the answer.

One potential solution to some of the transportation woes in the corridor may lie within an expanded bus system, he said.

If it’s cheap and frequent, buses can be a very efficient mode of transportation that get more cars off the road.

He dismisses rail as an effective answer.

"Rail is just hugely expensive," he said.

"Frequently a bus can perform at a fraction of the cost."

Even though people have a real affection for rail, Price said that investing money into rail lines may not solve any transportation problems in the long run.

"Rail could be as much of a boondoggle as a highway."

But the rail lines may come in handy as a short-term solution for moving people up to Whistler should the 2010 Olympic Bid be successful.

Price said he would like to explore the possibility of paving the rail lines temporarily for the Olympics.

The would limit excessive blasting of rock along the road. It would use existing rights-of-way. And it stays away from First Nations land claim issues.

With those factors working in its favour, it’s something to look into further he said.

Price also focused in on society’s reliance on the car and the ultimate icon of our time, the SUV, during his presentation.

"Talking about SUVs is like talking about sex and religion at the dinner table," he joked, flashing advertising images of wide-open spaces with one lone SUV on the roads.

With 26,533 new cars registered every year in Vancouver, and each car at an average length of five metres, Price calculated the there are 132 kilometres of new cars taking up the roads every year.

On a map that runs from West Vancouver to Kent.

"There is no way that the car is going to be accommodated," he said.

There isn’t enough space to cope with the sheer volume.

"That inevitable congestion can eventually work in our favour."

He pointed to the congestion in Vancouver, which may have caused the explosion of pedestrian trips in the city.

"(The car) has begun to drop out as the most efficient mode of transportation," he said.

Price said Vancouver’s decision not to build a viaduct to move traffic through the city has been key to the development of transportation in the city.

"It was the best thing we never did," he said.

Seattle, on the other hand, built a viaduct that’s now costing $11 billion (US) to fix and it still won’t solve the city’s congestion problems.

"The U.S. has committed itself to a dominant transportation mode for the car," he said.

"And it’s getting rough out there."

Price reminded the audience that we all have an obligation to do right when it comes to making transportation choices.

He has been a Vancouver councillor since 1986, sitting on a variety of committees including the Standing Committee of Transportation and Traffic, and TransLink.

He will not be running for office in November, prompting an audience member to question whether he would consider moving to Whistler and running for council.