Opinion » Editorial


It's not about the highway



A perfectly executed Olympics, while most likely impossible to achieve, is one that will always plan well ahead for the ‘what-ifs’. Like ‘what if there’s a serious crash on the Sea to Sky Highway during the Games?’

On Feb. 11, a motorcycle veered into an oncoming truck, unleashing a series of events that resulted in one death, two serious injuries, and dozens of other traumatized witnesses. As you might have read in our Letters section, the highway was also closed for almost eight hours as a result.

There was another accident and shorter closure on the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 17, tying up the highway on the Presidents’ Day long weekend.

About 35,000 people are expected to make the trip up and down the highway almost every day during the 2010 Games, most of them riding in an armada of buses. Closing even one lane for a short period of time could have serious ramifications for traffic, which in turn could have serious ramifications for the Games themselves.

If you sell someone a ticket to watch an alpine or Nordic event, you have to make sure the person gets there or suddenly you’re dealing with refunds, complaints, and a lot of bad publicity. All of the positive tourism spin-off for Whistler expected from the Games could be wiped out if the big Olympic story is an eight-hour highway closure on B.C.’s infamous "death highway".

No doubt the first answer you’ll hear in response to the highway ‘what if’ question is that the $600 million upgrade to the highway will help to prevent the kind of accidents that lead to long closures. Corners are being straightened out, traffic-calming measures and barriers are being put in place, and lanes are being added and widened to increase the overall safety of the road.

The centre rumble strip and reflectors, which discourage drivers (and especially motorcyclists) from crossing the centre line won’t be finished until after 2010 to allow for an alternating lane during the Games. If the province agrees to a centre barrier for the entire length of the highway, that would most likely be post-Games as well.

Another answer you’ll hear is that access to the highway will be limited during the Games to people who have residences or hotel bookings in the Sea to Sky corridor, or tickets to events – and most of those people will be encouraged to travel by bus.

However, it’s not tourists that we usually have to worry about. Most of them are so shaken up by the time they’ve driven five minutes out of West Van that they drive the speed limit the entire way to Whistler.

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