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Feature - Paving the way to the future

$600 million in upgrades to the Sea to Sky Highway will service more than Whistler and the 2010 Olympics



The Sea to Sky Highway has always been controversial. In the beginning engineers shook their heads at the idea of ever making the Horseshoe Bay-Squamish highway into four lanes. A road foreman in charge of maintenance for 30 years said he wouldn’t live anywhere near the highway.

But a lot of people live in the Sea to Sky corridor, and more are coming – regardless of whether the 2010 Olympics are awarded to Vancouver-Whistler or not. The Games bid was the catalyst for the $600 million in highway improvements planned between 2004 and 2009, but based on development commitments already made in Furry Creek and Squamish, the volume of traffic on "the highway to Whistler" is going to increase.

Residents and business owners from Lions Bay to Brackendale are preparing for the growth, and for the financial hit they expect to take during highway construction.

On a Friday in March the Sea to Sky Highway is clear and dry. Semi-trucks loaded with 4x8 timbers and granite building stones back up traffic heading south. The Lions Bay General Store and Café is a welcome rest spot for travellers sitting on the outside deck drinking coffee and soaking up the springtime sunshine.

Karin Dodd works at the post office inside the store. Dodd and her husband, Glen, moved to Lions Bay from North Vancouver eight years ago, joining residents who love the intimacy of their community and the proximity to nature. But, Karin is quick to talk about the need for improvements on the Sea to Sky Highway.

"I’ve just about been run off the road slowing down to get into my own town!" Dodd remarks, between serving customers coming in and out of the store.

Upgrading the highway and hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics would benefit the store but Dodd is not sure if the increased traffic and world wide attention is worth the trade-off.

"Losing our anonymity," she says frankly, when asked about the downside.

"All we could hope to gain from improvements is safety," Dodd says.

A little further up the highway a light Squamish wind sends whitecaps dancing across the slate green waters of Howe Sound just off Porteau Cove. On this weekday afternoon in May the traffic comes in bunches, almost as if drivers are afraid to run the gauntlet of systems stabilizing the mountains that have been notched to accommodate the highway. White pipes stick out of the bluffs draining surface water and wire mesh is draped over rock faces.

At Furry Creek the wind has stiffened and the noise of the traffic dominates the senses as I step out of my car to ask for directions to Stonegate, a neighbourhood on the east side of Furry Creek.