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Changes coming after weekend highway foul up

Stakeholders meet to make sure gridlock doesn’t happen again

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Everyone involved in keeping Highway 99 open was asking questions this week and meeting after the road became a parking lot between Creekside and Function Junction last Sunday for more than four hours.

“It is probably the most important thing I am dealing with right now and we have to resolve it,” said Joan McIntyre, MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi.

The highway became gridlocked on Sunday afternoon thanks to all the usual suspects — it was snowing heavily, thousands of people were leaving the resort after skiing all day at the end of the holiday season, and a bus with no snow tires slid out of control on the road blocking traffic and snow plows.

The level of concern was so high that Ministry of Transportation officials came to Whistler Tuesday to meet with other stakeholders, including the RCMP, road contractors, Whistler-Blackcomb and the RMOW.

All are working on a protocol to prevent it from happening again but for now some changes were introduced including:

• direct radio contact between RCMP cruisers and plows so that the snow machines can be escorted to trouble spots and be alerted to them.

• RCMP and others were informed that it is Mainroad Contracting which takes care of the highway from Function Junction north. Confusion over this resulted in officers calling Miller Capilano Maintenance Corp., which looks after the highway south of Function Junction, on Sunday for help instead of Mainroad.

• direct and regular contact between road contractors and Whistler-Blackcomb so that plows know how many people to prepare the roads for.

• the light sequence at Creekside will be investigated to see if it can be tweaked to help smooth the flow of traffic.

• The RMOW is looking into providing staff to help direct traffic when needed so that RCMP officers are freed up. Whistler-Blackcomb is also looking at increasing the number of flagging staff and how they direct traffic.

“Everyone came to the table to find solutions,” said RCMP Sgt. Steve Wright of the Sea to Sky Policing Services.

“It is an on-going issue that we are continuing to improve on especially with the 2010 (Winter Olympic Games) pressures coming up. This is not a science. Every snowfall is a unique situation and it calls for creative thinking.”

The same scenario happened at least once last season in Whistler, and more than once on the highway to Squamish.

“We are in a mountain ski resort for Pete’s sake,” said Whistler Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden who raised the issue at the regular council meeting Monday night.

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