Fatal crash renews calls for increased safety along Highway 99 

Ministry of Transportation to install 16 new digital speed signs between Whistler and Squamish

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A recent accident that claimed the life of a Whistler woman has renewed calls for increased safety measures along a stretch of Highway 99 running through Lions Bay.

West Vancouver resident David Tompkins launched an online petition last year calling on the province to install additional concrete barriers throughout the community. The petition has seen a surge in interest since a Nov. 1 crash, when a vehicle flipped over a highway barrier landing on its roof before being struck head-on. The incident killed Whistler's Marie-Pier Champagne and left another woman with severe injuries. The driver of the other car received minor injures.

At press time, over 2,700 people had signed the petition, which can be viewed at www.change.org/p/concrete-barrier-along-lions-bay-section-of-highway-99.

While there are barriers erected along certain sections of the road, Tompkins believes they're often not enough to prevent vehicles from crossing over the centre-line into oncoming traffic.

"At 60km/h, having the medians they have are perfectly safe," he said, referring to the posted speed limit throughout much of Lions Bay. "Those should stop you. The problem is (the province) is avoiding reality, which is that nobody goes 60km/h through there."

The issue, explained Lions Bay Mayor Karl Buhr, is that the highway can't accommodate additional barriers in certain sections. Instead, small trees and shrubbery have been installed to separate traffic.

"In terms of barriers themselves, (the Ministry of Transportation) advises us that in many cases the highway is just not correctly sized for that," he said. "As much as they'd like to place barriers in different places, the design criteria used for highways doesn't provide adequate shoulder space."

Buhr believes too many motorists are ignoring the posted speed limits.

"There's a disparate number of accidents that are the fault of speed," he said.

The mayor is pushing the transportation ministry to consider several safety measures in Lions Bay, including installing speed radar in certain areas, dynamic signage that would provide real-time data and a traffic control light that would be triggered when a vehicle hits a certain speed. He's also questioned whether Lions Bay's speed limits need to be reconsidered.

While it won't directly impact Lions Bay, a Ministry of Transportation spokesperson confirmed 16 new speed signs would be installed between Function Junction and Squamish next year. The digital technology will warn drivers of bad weather and will adjust the speed limit to "let drivers know what speed they should be travelling during winter weather conditions." The systems, part of a pilot project involving three B.C. highways, are expected to go live in early 2016.

But, according to Squamish resident Lynette Lawther, who was injured in a severe head-on collision last month near Brohm Lake, speeding is just one small piece of the equation. "Everybody just talks about speed and I think that's stupid because everyone is going to speed," she said.

Instead Lawther is calling for "a behavioural shift," hoping motorists will become more aware of their surroundings and avoid distractions on the road.

"We need to be able to look at other people on the road and see them as human beings," she said. "We're responsible for their well being when we get behind the wheel. If we do that, then all of this other stuff doesn't matter."

Once nicknamed "The Highway of Death," accidents on the Sea to Sky Highway have dropped significantly since a $600-million highway improvement project was completed ahead of the 2010 Olympics. Today, Highway 99 averages 152 collisions a year, approximately 30-per-cent less than the average before the upgrades.



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