Sea to Sky not just any highway, say RCMP, business leaders 

Special designation needed to keep Hwy 99 safe

Incidents like this head-on collision that bogged down traffic for  hours could be prevented with a mountain highway designation. Photo by Maureen Provencal
  • Incidents like this head-on collision that bogged down traffic for hours could be
    prevented with a mountain highway designation.
    Photo by Maureen Provencal

By Vivian Moreau

Although Sea to Sky community leaders, police and residents are calling for tougher restrictions on motorists travelling Highway 99 without snow tires or chains, the area’s MLA is reluctant to introduce legislation that would designate the roadway as a mountain highway.

Local RCMP say there would be fewer foul-ups like the Dec. 15 gridlock that left hundreds of motorists stranded near Whistler and in which one motorist died of a heart attack if the province designated the highway as a mountain or winter highway.

Cpl. Scott Bowden is stationed at Squamish RCMP detachment and speaks for Sea to Sky traffic services, an RCMP division focused on improving highway safety. Bowden said a mountain or highway designation would mean the message not to travel in winter without snow tires could get to motorists before they set out on Highway 99. Staff at border crossings, travel agents, and proper signage would let motorists know that snow tires or chains would be required for travel from Vancouver to Whistler in winter months. Bowden said at present local RCMP don’t have the manpower for constant road checks to turn back poorly equipped vehicles during inclement weather.

“Someone can come on this highway today with all-season or just summer tires which would get them all the way to Whistler, but if the weather changes now they probably won’t go anywhere but in the ditch,” Bowden said.

But the Ministry of Transportation says mountain or winter highway designation does not exist within provincial legislation.

“It’s semantics,” said Transportation spokesperson Jeff Knight. “The question seems to be why don’t you put up a sign, make it mandatory (to have snow tires or chains), but there is no such thing as a mountain highway designation.”

Provincial legislation would have to be introduced and passed to implement such a designation. But local MLA Joan McIntyre is reluctant to support that, saying such a requirement could put a damper on tourism.

“If all of a sudden you tell people they have to have winter tires from October to April that’s going to cause people to go ‘oh yeah, well I’ll go somewhere else. I’m not going to bother to go to Whistler,’” she said.

Car rental agencies also do not support the idea of requiring vehicles to be equipped with snow tires or chains. National Car Rental says its fleet comes factory-equipped with all-season radials but it’s not the tires that cause traffic tie-ups, it’s the drivers.

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