Mountain highway designation likely dead 

Would have required snow tires on Sea to Sky at all times

A resolution to designate the Sea to Sky Highway as a mountain highway has been bouncing around since 2003, but after it received no support at the recent Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler, the resolution is likely dead.

"This was our last ditch attempt," said Mayor Ken Melamed.

"It was on the UBCM agenda last year and didn't make it to the floor... and it wasn't endorsed by the delegates, and this year it wasn't endorsed (by the UBCM) or the delegates. It was essentially there to see if there was an appetite."

Melamed said the original call for the mountain highway designation was in 2003 after a series of blizzards and accidents that shut down the highway for hours. Stakeholders, including Sea to Sky communities, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, RCMP and highway contractors asked for a resolution in support of mountain highway status to prompt the province to intervene. Melamed said the UBCM's support could have helped, but it would have been the Government of B.C.'s decision whether to support that resolution.

Among other things, a mountain highway designation would make it easier for authorities to close the road to vehicles without snow tires or chains during snowstorms or when snow is on the ground or in the forecast. It also makes it easier to close the highway for plows if necessary.

While there was some concern that a mountain highway designation could hamper the number of visitors to Whistler from areas like Vancouver and Seattle where snow is a rarity, those rules would only apply during certain conditions.

"The question was asked if this would have been a barrier for people to get to Whistler, but my understanding is that most people in the resort and tourism sector were in favour of greater safety on the highway," said Melamed. "There was a period in the past where the highway was closed up to six hours at a time with multiple crashes on icy roads.

"The reality is that, over years of trying to explore this, the mountain highway designation is not something that is easy to achieve or thought to be the best solution - and there was no support from the Ministry of Transportation."

Melamed said he wasn't optimistic that the resolution would succeed, but says the process was valuable in getting stakeholders on the same page when it comes to managing the highway during snowstorms. Sea to Sky RCMP now close the highway for plowing during large storms and have been conducting more tire checks at Function Junction and at Alice Lake for snow tires and chains.

But while that work with stakeholders has been credited with reducing the number of accidents and closures, Melamed says it will take a while to know how well it's working.

"It's too early to say based on last year's experience whether (fewer closures) establishes a trend," said Melamed. "I tend to agree with the members of... our ad hoc stakeholder committee that was brought together by ICBC, and the argument that there is simply not enough provincial enforcement on the highway. We need to get the message out for people that safety on the road is a priority, and that they need to think about having the appropriate winter tires for the conditions."

Melamed says communities are discussing the need for more enforcement with the province through West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Joan McIntyre.



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