Funding secured for highway upgrades in Whistler 

Some closures expected as improvements are made from Function Junction to village

A Ministry of Transportation project to widen Highway 99 between Function Junction and Whistler Village will begin at the end of the month, with the province this week confirming $9.8 million in funding and contracting Burnaby-based Alpine Paving to do the work.

The project is due to be completed by Oct. 31, 2009.

Wider shoulders will allow for a temporary third lane from Function Junction to Creekside during the 2010 Games, but afterwards the highway will be converted back to two lanes, with wider shoulders for cyclists and managing incidents like accidents. A section may be converted to Valley Trail, connecting Spring Creek with the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood and Function Junction.

As well, new bus pullouts will be placed along the highway, allowing for express buses through Whistler, and the steep climb up Nordic Hill will be re-graded to provincial standards.

Joan McIntyre, MLA for the West Vancouver-Garibaldi riding, welcomed the new funding.

“Almost all of the things that are happening came out of our consultations with Whistler… and the work that was done as part of the Whistler 2020 strategy for transportation, and from public open houses in 2006,” said McIntyre, who stressed that the project is not related to the ongoing Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project.

“It will improve transit, and cycling, and it is also very timely with the Games. Also, we have been looking at the incident management benefits as well, with all the unfortunate incidents with snow and vehicle accidents in the last few winters and the long highway closures.”

While McIntyre said the work is primarily a Ministry of Transportation project, she did take some credit through her work to improve the way accidents and snow closures are handled.

“I’ve been working closely with the (Ministry of Transportation) on a number of fronts since last winter. Part of it relates to highway work being done in Whistler, like re-grading the highway at Nordic Hill so people don’t get stuck there, and widening the lanes for incident management, stalled cars and those kinds of things,” she said.

“I also have commitments on a number of fronts which are important as we get closer to the winter season, like making sure we’re doing tire checks, and (increasing) our commercial vehicle safety inspections.

“There are also things like making sure that everyone is using the Ministry of Transportation radio frequency — the RCMP, the West Vancouver PD, the ministry, and highway contractors — so we can handle incidents better. I’ve also worked with the Solicitor General’s office to make sure we get a traffic and accident analyst in the corridor… so we won’t have a six hour wait to bring in an analyst from Chilliwack or from wherever one is available. We’re also looking at the procedure and the analysis involved for closing down a highway, with the aim of making sure we minimize highway shutdowns.”

Another part of the project involved mapping out emergency services and highway services throughout the corridor to better coordinate responses.

“That’s not to say that there won’t be incidents, because we will always have weather and this is a mountain highway, and people will need to drive to conditions,” she said. “But we really made progress the last couple of years in getting the resources behind us and integrating our services, which is the most important thing.”

There will be closures while highway construction in Whistler takes place, McIntyre acknowledged. Some blasting will be required to widen the highway in some sections, although night work is being kept to a minimum to comply with municipal noise bylaws.

There could also be daily closures from Monday to Friday, outside of peak commute times and holidays. Approved closure times are limited from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily, and at night from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. and from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m., although actual closures will vary from week to week with the construction schedule. Lower speed limits will also be in effect in construction zones.

Public transit will run on time, McIntyre says, and will also benefit from new pullouts along the highway when the project is complete. New pullouts will be built at Brio and Nordic northbound, Lake Placid southbound, London Lane northbound, and on both sides of the overpass by the Whistler Golf Course. Existing highway pullouts will also be improved and made larger.

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