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Construction options for Highway 99 presented to council

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Four-year construction period will have major impact on business

The Ministry of Transportation has presented options for fixing the Sea to Sky Highway but it has yet to figure out the economic costs to businesses in the corridor.

The construction timeline runs for about four years, for three seasons each year.

For four days a week the road will be closed for eight hours during the night and four hours during the day.

"Here we are talking about something that could just devastate this economy," warned Councillor Nick Davies after a presentation by Peter Milburn of the Ministry of Transportation at Tuesday’s council meeting.

"Council and staff must allocate money and understand what the implications are for this community.

"We need to understand what that impact will be as quickly as possible."

His comments drew a cursory applause from some members of the community at the meeting.

The presentation by Milburn, project director for the Sea to Sky Corridor with the Ministry of Transportation, was the first glimpse at options for upgrading the highway, and the first step in bringing major transportation issues to the public.

It marks the beginning of a wave of open houses throughout the summer, at the end of which one of the options will be selected.

All options are costly, ranging from $400 million for safety improvements and no increase in highway capacity, to $1.8 billion for a four-lane freeway from Horseshoe Bay to Whistler. All are disruptive, some more so than others.

A decision on corridor transportation is required by late 2002 to support the Vancouver 2010 Olympic bid.

Milburn began his presentation talking about growth in travel predicted in the corridor. That growth is expected to increase more than 50 per cent by 2025. The 11 million cars currently using the Sea to Sky Highway will jump up to 17 million cars in less than 25 years.

Within the next five to 10 years there will be routine congestion on the highway as a result of that growth.

"We’re at a critical decision point," he said.

Councillor Ted Milner questioned Milburn’s growth statistics, asking him where all the growth was coming from if Whistler was soon reaching capacity.

"You’re letting unlimited growth drive the highway," Milner said, adding that there was no pun intended.

Milner suggested there be an option to limit growth through the whole corridor.

In addition to the sheer numbers coming up the road, telephone surveys conducted for the ministry show only three to six per cent of drivers will switch to another mode of transportation, like buses or ferries, if tolls and other incentives are made available.

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