Olympic traffic concerns persist in Pemberton 

Concerns about Olympic traffic are persisting in Pemberton, a community whose citizens worry that more traffic could be coming from the north during the Games than anyone has projected.

Russell Mack, Fire Chief and Public Works Manager for the Village of Pemberton, is one of them.

"I just think there's going to be more traffic coming over than maybe is expected," he said. "That's just a guess, that just seems to be what everybody thinks, other than the (B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Highways). They may prove to be right and there won't be that many people coming over, I just feel there will be."

The Sea to Sky Highway is seen as the main gateway to Whistler during the Olympics. Between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the Games many vehicles will not be able to travel north past a checkpoint near Alice Lake Provincial Park. Only commercial vehicles and vehicles with a pass will be allowed through during these hours.

But the Duffey Lake Road could serve as a kind of back door into the Olympics if enough people learn about it. The road, which traverses a stretch of Highway 99 from Lillooet and into Pemberton, would usher that traffic right through the Pemberton Valley and into Whistler via a northern gateway.

Mack is concerned that more traffic could bring more car accidents - and thus bring more work for Pemberton Fire Rescue.

"It's all weather-dependent," he said. "If the weather's good there won't be any issues, but if the weather's bad, then there's the possibility for more motor vehicle accidents. That's going to impact the fire department."

Mack said the Pemberton Festival, which saw 40,000 people come to the valley via both the Sea to Sky Highway and the Duffey, brought more people over the latter route than organizers expected.

"There was definitely more people came that way than said they were going to," he said. "Just going on that, you would think it may be the same for this.

"People take that route after the fact, they get a map, look at it and go, this is shorter. They may not plan to come that way until they have a look. I know that happened during the festival because they did some pretty good research on that and more people came than they anticipated."

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy also said the ministry isn't projecting more traffic over the Duffey, but he added that the RCMP have increased their staffing in order to patrol an expanded area.

Asked whether he thinks the community will see more traffic from the north, Sturdy said that remains to be seen.

"Our fire department is aware of the issue, as is the B.C. Ambulance Service," he said. "I know that B.C. Ambulance has upped the amount of full time, paid cars in Whistler, up to five from three. They're not on call anymore, they'll be paid cars and four of them will be available 24 hours a day."

Sturdy said that if more traffic comes, the park and ride being constructed on the B.C. Rail and Wye properties behind Signal Hill Elementary School should provide ample space for cars.

"We haven't done it before so there's some unknowns there," he said. "We should have adequate parking, depending on what the demand is."

Meanwhile, online sources that provide directions for travelers from the northeast indicate that going through Pemberton is the best way to get to Whistler. A search of Google Maps for routes from Calgary to Whistler advises travelers to go via the Duffey, as did a search of directions from Kamloops or Prince George.

A MapQuest search turned up similar results.

Dave Crebo, a spokesman with B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation, said VANOC ticket sales have given analysts an idea of where traffic will be coming from. He said there's currently a volume of about 150 vehicles a day over the Duffey, but that even with 800 cars a day there's still capacity available on the highway, just as there was during the Pemberton Festival.

"The issue at that time was parking, so there's not a concern around capacity on the highway for the Olympics," he said. "They are increasing the maintenance on that road anyway."



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