Two highway gridlocks in one month spark community concern 

Councillor urges public to write complaint letters to the local MLA

Council is urging citizens to complain to the province about ongoing highway gridlock in bad weather.

“The type of information I think we need to take to the provincial types are the number of highway closures, the length of those closures, the number and content of complaints, and the additional snow clearing and policing costs,” said Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden at Monday night’s meeting.

She is urging the public to pass stories and complaints to Joan McIntyre, MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi.

“She needs more ammunition to take the case to the minister,” she said.

During Monday night’s council meeting, Wilhelm-Morden spoke about the need to address this issue, calling the gridlock a “true definition of frustration.”

“Once again, we had snow coming down mid-afternoon. It started coming down at two or three o’cloc… And highway traffic sure enough grinds to a halt,” she said.

“And the rest really is a sad story of people taking four hours to get from North Vancouver to Whistler, or people taking two hours to get from Whistler to Squamish.”

Friday’s incident was the second time the highway has become gridlocked in less than a month. On Jan. 6, a similar scenario of heavy snow caused traffic to be stalled for more than four hours.

Several factors are at play in the events, including having only one point of access by vehicles into and out of Whistler. Also, key people in charge of maintaining the highway through snow plowing and salting are located in Squamish and Pemberton.  

Mayor Ken Melamed said that Tourism Whistler and other local organizations have already communicated their frustrations with the Minister of Transportation, Kevin Falcon.  

He added that the highway situation needs to be addressed.

“We have an expectation of service,” said Melamed.

“And it does seem to have been deteriorating over the years,” he said.

The municipality is not responsible for highway maintenance and has no way of ensuring that the people cleaning Whistler’s roads have their plows parked in town.

Councillor Ralph Forsyth agreed something needs to be done, stressing that these highway closures have real costs to Whistler’s economy.

“This weekend I skied with two guys who were stuck in it (Friday’s gridlock) for two hours, and they had debated whether they would come skiing that day,” he said.

“Who knows who didn’t come skiing.”

There have been two meetings so far this year with corridor stakeholders to look into the highway gridlock issue. The first meeting was held immediately after the Jan. 6 incident and a follow up meeting was held last week prior to Friday’s incident.

From these meetings, the RMOW has ensured the municipality’s plows put their blades down when travelling along the highway, made arrangements for the highway contractor to access sand and salt within Whistler, and improved the RCMP communication system.

Bob MacPherson, general manager of community life for the RMOW, added that Whistler Fire Rescue Services and the Whistler RCMP are continuing to follow up on highway traffic.

Council will also correspond with McIntyre to express their continuing concern about the highway, with the hope of convincing the Ministry of Transportation to pass new regulations that would improve winter access in the corridor.

Such regulations could include requiring winter tires for all vehicles, including rented cars and commercial vehicles, obtaining additional funding for policing costs, and asking the provincial government to ensure a certain response time from contractors involved with highway maintenance.

 

 

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