The search for a magic bullet

Vancouver City Councillor Gordon Price provided an interesting, and entertaining, view on transportation issues for the Sea to Sky corridor at last week’s chamber of commerce luncheon. Price, who took the bus to Whistler for his engagement, is not a big fan of the private automobile.

His message was to look at transportation, particularly the car and the network of roads and parking spaces it requires, from the point of view of its impact on the liveability of an area, as opposed to looking for ways to increase traffic flows.

"Show me the plan for the corridor’s growth, then address highway capacity and needs," Price said.

He noted that Vancouver has been constraining cars for 30 years, and it’s now considered one of the most liveable cities in the world. And there have been periods of strong growth during that 30 years.

Referring to plans to widen the Sea to Sky highway Price said: "You lay the asphalt, you’re going to get sprawl."

Price’s talk, which seemed to be reasonably well received by chamber members, raises the question of need in relation to Highway 99 and the expected fall announcement from the provincial government about what will be done to upgrade it. What are Whistler’s needs, given that there is a limit on growth? What are Squamish’s needs, those of Pemberton, Lions Bay and the other towns in the corridor?

But the existing communities aren’t the only ones with needs. What does the provincial government need as far as a return on investment in transportation in the corridor? Less important but still worth considering, what are the transportation needs should the Olympics be held here in 2010?

What we know, from a study by TSI Consultants/McIntyre & Mustel released earlier this year, is that currently there are about 11 million inter-city corridor trips per year. Corridor residents account for 35 per cent of these trips and residents of the corridor and the Lower Mainland together account for 83 per cent of these 11 million trips. Ninety-three per cent of these trips are made by car.

The study also found that inter-city corridor travel is expected to increase from 11 million to 13 million trips per year by 2010, and to 17 million by 2025.

Jack Poole, CEO of the 2010 Olympic bid, has been vocal in his pleas to the province to commit to upgrading the highway. "We really need some help on this one," he is reported to have said in an open cabinet meeting, although he appeared more understanding of Whistler’s position during his recent presentation to council. Poole said European competitors for the 2010 Games never miss an opportunity to raise questions about the highway, often called the Achilles Heel of the Vancouver bid.

Interestingly, Price suggested that by 2010 the world, and particularly Europeans, will be looking at everything we’ve done to host the Games from the perspective of sustainability and impact on the environment.

So what are the government’s plans for transportation in the corridor? West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Ted Nebbeling, whose duties include responsibility for the 2010 bid, said we should know by September. However, by process of elimination he gave some clues.

Nebbeling said last weekend that there really aren’t any alternatives to the existing corridor. A new study of the Indian Arm route has found 20 per cent grades and more than a dozen areas where snow and rock slides would be a problem. The route would also have to go through a provincial park.

The Seymour and Capilano watershed routes are, as Price described them, "religious issues" because they hold most of the Lower Mainland’s drinking water.

Nebbeling, like Whistler councillors, favoured a train solution but the TSI Consultants/McIntyre & Mustel study found the subsidies required would be enormous.

That leaves upgrading Highway 99 as the only realistic choice. Nebbeling said he doesn’t like the idea of a four-lane, divided highway, but whatever action is taken must meet the needs, and growth, of the corridor for years to come. "It is not just a road to Whistler," he said.

Some factors include the Squamish university, possibly the Garibaldi at Squamish ski resort and the proposed Cayoosh ski resort. There is also ongoing development between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish. The TSI Consultants/McIntyre & Mustel study found significant growth over the last 10 years in the number of vehicles travelling north of Horseshoe Bay but stopping south of Squamish.

Given those comments, and the needs of all parties involved, the likely scenario appears to be the highway model proposed in the TSI Consultants/McIntyre & Mustel study: four lanes between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish; two lanes, with improvements for safety, between Squamish and Whistler. The cost is estimated at just under $1 billion.


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