editorial 

Since the news filtered out late last year that a joint Vancouver-Whistler bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics was being considered public discussion has been underwhelming. Perhaps it’s because the Games are 12 years away and the bid has to win a national endorsement in November and then an international endorsement five years from now that the whole affair has generated little excitement. Most people know the arguments for going after the Games: 1) the publicity they would bring B.C., which would boost tourism; 2) a transportation legacy; 3) a legacy of sports venues and training centres that would help B.C. and Canadian athletes for years following the Games; 4) jobs and investment that would be created by building the transportation legacy and sports venues. For Whistler, with a ceiling on development and a population still coming to grips with the building boom of the ’90s, investment and development of facilities is not a major carrot. Living within the development cap and the infrastructure planned for that finite population is the objective. That’s a point Whistler representatives on the bid society have made from day one. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and Craig MacKenzie have let the rest of the bid society know that for the Games to work for Whistler they have to fit within what is already planned for this community. There won’t be any Olympic village built here; existing hotels are proposed to house athletes and media. That leaves the "transportation legacy" as the raison d’être of the Olympics for Whistler. Some sort of improvement on Highway 99 is going to be essential in the next few years. In MacKenzie’s words, the highway is "the major economic constraint to the Sea to Sky Corridor." By the time it reaches buildout, Whistler alone may generate enough traffic to exceed Highway 99’s capacity. Squamish, Pemberton and Furry Creek are also going to grow. So what sort of transportation legacy is proposed? It takes strong imagination to foresee any provincial government funding a high-speed commuter rail line through the Sea to Sky Corridor, and a second highway is almost as unlikely, for economic and environmental reasons. Besides, more cars will create more problems. What is being considered is an upgraded rail network utilizing existing rail rights of way, possibly in partnership with an automatic toll system on an improved Highway 99. Commuter rail lines are rarely profitable, at least in North America, so the improvements wouldn’t be exclusively for passenger rail service. The concept would be to straighten out and improve existing rail lines so they may be used for rapid commuter trains and freight trains. The network would make economic sense because of the freight traffic. At the same time port facilities at Squamish and elsewhere would be upgraded so they can handle more freight coming from and going to the Interior. An emphasis on handling container cargo, something the Port of Vancouver has limited capacity for, is also part of the proposed plan. It’s a broad vision, encompassing much of B.C. and its economy, which would use the Olympics as the catalyst for developing the network. O’Reilly describes it as an overall vision that most of B.C. has to buy into in order for it to survive changes in provincial governments. There are still a million details to work out, but this Olympic thing is starting to make some sense.

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