Sea-to-Sky transportation study calls for highway, railway improvements 

Increased growth in the corridor’s number of residents and visitors, 2010 Olympic bid cited as impetus

Growth along the Sea-to-Sky corridor from Horseshoe Bay to Pemberton is shifting into overdrive.

According to a recently released study by the B.C. government, the region’s population could triple in the next 25 years, from today’s 33,000 to 100,000.

Add in the corridor’s popularity as a recreation and tourist destination plus the 2010 Olympic bid and – voila! – you get one busy highway.

Highway 99 – also known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway – is the subject of a major Ministry of Transportation and Highways study that stretches from West Vancouver to the junction of Highways 99 and 97 north of Cache Creek.

The 94-page Multi-Modal Corridor Transportation Study, prepared by Burnaby, B.C.-based engineering consultants Reid Crowther and Partners Ltd., considers the region’s transportation needs for the next quarter-century, including those for tourism, commuting, commercial traffic and the Olympic bid.

The report’s major findings suggest the section of asphalt that stretches between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish be expanded to four lanes. The study also recommends that a new express train system be put into service in the corridor.

The report does not make any specific recommendations and is not a market-condition analysis for any particular mode of transportation, but does offer information to help federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments determine viable solutions and development options.

According to the report, close to 14,000 vehicles currently use the highway each day. More than 19,000 vehicles use the highway on weekends.

Winter weekends are considered to be the busiest – with Friday and Sunday evening rush hours – but summer weekends are quickly catching up are predicted to become even busier.

In addition to the above mentioned findings, the study identifies three other possible solutions to solving the corridor’s transportation woes.

• Widening Highway 99 to four lanes between Horseshoe Bay and Whistler, including new tunnels, at a cost of $1.34 billion

• Improving inter-city bus service and facilities, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, "queue jumper" lanes, widening highway shoulders and adding more highway signs and markers. The cost is estimated to be $365 million.

• Expanding passenger rail service along the B.C. Railway line at peak-demand times, offering up to five passenger trains per day. This solution is geared mainly towards commuters and would be similar to the West Coast Express that shuttles between the Fraser Valley and downtown Vancouver. Cost is estimated to be $745 million.

According to the study, the Sea-to-Sky corridor will also see increased growth from recreational users headed to the region’s ski resorts, provincial parks and backcountry areas.

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