Road expansion to wait for funding as province releases list of ‘must haves’ 

Plan to upgrade highway is key to plan to pipe natural gas into Whistler

The Transportation and Highways ministry has released its list of Sea to Sky corridor "must haves," including a series of safety upgrades to Highway 99.

But there is still no definitive word on whether there will be funding to upgrade the 5.5 kilometre narrow, two land section between Culliton Creek and the Cheakamus Canyon.

"As we continue to plan for growing transportation needs in this corridor we must also take care of today’s priorities," said Transportation and Highways Minister Helmut Giesbrecht. "Safety, reliability and preservation of infrastructure are the must-haves that are the focus of this year’s projects."

The Cheakamus River Bridge (#1) 30 kilometres north of Squamish, will get a new deck this year, while the Salmon River timber bridge 25 kilometres northwest of Pemberton will be completely replaced.

The 21 kilometre section of highway between Brohm Lake and Culliton Creek will be repaved, and a safety guardrail will be installed 14 kilometres north of Squamish and 8 kilometres south of Whistler.

There will be highway closures, and the ministry will make that information known once they have worked out a construction schedule.

Dan Mayberry, the regional communications co-ordinator for the ministry, says 2001 is a preparatory work year for the Culliton Creek-Cheakamus Canyon section, that will hopefully be followed by two years of construction, if funding is approved.

"This is a multi-year delivery project, and we have funding for one year only for the preparatory work – that means surveying, engineering, design, all that good stuff that precedes any major project," says Mayberry.

If the funding is approved, highway work will include widening the 5.5 kilometre stretch of highway to four lanes – a project that would fit into Centra Gas’ plans to pipe natural gas from Squamish to Whistler by 2003. While it’s not a long stretch of road, it will involve rock blasting and twinning the Culliton Creek bridge.

"At the same time, at least theoretically, Centra Gas could be working right alongside our road crews, so if we have to close the darn highway, we’ll at least get the most bang for our buck, so to speak," says Mayberry. "Theoretically, we could cut the misery in half.

"We’ve been speaking with Centra Gas on this for quite some time now, and if our funding is approved, we can work on the same schedule."

By co-ordinating the construction of the highway with the laying of the gas line, Centra Gas estimates that it could save as much as $5 million on the construction of the gas line, which the company felt was prohibitively expensive at $30 million.

This year the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority’s capital plan is funded to the tune of $485 million after two years of accelerated capital investment. Next year funding will drop back to normal levels with $301 million.

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