When you're going nowhere fast 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALYSSA NOEL
  • Photo by Alyssa Noel

When I moved to Squamish last fall, I was certain about a few things: the Sea to Sky Highway was about to become my worst enemy, I would encounter a lot of clueless tourists driving with summer tires, and skiing on weekend mornings would be entirely out of the question.

I also knew that crashes happened — bad crashes that would shut down the entire highway for hours. But still, statistically speaking, it seemed unlikely I would find myself completely cut off from the only route home. After all, those kinds of accidents only happen a handful of times each winter.

My lack of skills as a statistician became apparent on Friday, Feb. 23, when a crash near the Big Orange Bridge between Whistler and Squamish completely closed the highway for over five hours.

(Before I go any further I'd like to say that my heart goes out to the family and friends of the person who died in this crash. It was truly tragic and if shutting down the highway for a full week would bring them back, I'd happily suffer the inconvenience.)

It wouldn't have been so bad on any other day. I could've come back to work in Function and finished a few stories, gone into the village for a leisurely dinner or hung out with friends.

But on this particular day, my parents had arrived in Squamish from Alberta for a visit. I was on my way home to meet them when I got the call that the highway would be shut down. Ironically, I had warned them that their journey up from the city would likely be a slow, frustrating crawl. Turns out it was just fine and, in fact, they were early.

So, I waited, hoping that the Drive BC-estimated opening of 10 p.m. would be wrong — and waited, and waited...until I finally came to grips with the fact that sitting in my car for three more hours would not be worth it.

Luckily, my parents enjoyed a nice dinner at The Joinery and, as we joked, a group of my friends did some "parentsitting," taking them in until I finally arrived back in town around midnight.

Still, it was stressful worrying about them after their long day of travel and not being able to do a thing.

It was also frustrating realizing I can't afford decent housing with a dog in Whistler (I'm in my 30s and certainly not sharing a bedroom with a stranger at this stage in life), so instead, am forced to commute for 40 minutes each way, every day, putting myself not only in inconvenient situations, but also in the way of danger, as the crash proved.

This is not the first time the highway has been closed for an extended period due to a tragedy this winter. A heartbreaking head-on collision claimed the lives of two people in January as well, closing the highway until the early morning.

I narrowly missed that accident, passing the scene just before officials shut down the road. My coworker was not as lucky and had to hole up in Whistler for the night.

Officials are aware of this issue. Last October, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) formed a working group to tackle some of the recommendations in a June report on protocols for road closures.

Among the recommendations were aiming to have the highway open to one lane of traffic within 90 minutes, as is the standard in other municipalities. Clearly, that goal has not come close to reality yet.

Am I petty and selfish for sitting in traffic, imagining my tired parents in stilted conversation with my friends, and getting angry? Maybe. But, I have to admit, I let that emotion get the better of me.

I took off my journalist hat and, in a fit of frustration, emailed our MLA Jordan Sturdy from my personal email account with my concerns.

To his credit, he phoned me (I guess recognizing my name from my years talking to him as a reporter for The Question) just days later to respond. And guess what? As he explained in a voicemail message, he had been stuck in traffic too — only he didn't get back home to Pemberton until 2 a.m.

The moral of this admittedly First-World-woes story: something needs to change. Waiting for a road to re-open for five to eight hours is unacceptable, but three people dying on the same stretch of highway is nothing short of tragic.

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