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Fire hazard impacting road work

Regarding of Nordic Hill will mean night closures, delays

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Extreme fire danger is placing restrictions on road construction between Function Junction and Whistler Village.

Alpine Paving Ltd. is currently engaged in a multi-phased shoulder-widening project that aims to increase safety by creating a third lane on Highway 99. The project will also see improvements to three bus stops: one north of the Nordic overpass, another north of the entrance to Brio and another south of Lake Placid Road.

Work on the project is still going ahead but it's had to be adjusted in light of elevated fire ratings, according to project manager David Mintak.

"Right now we're communicating daily with the fire chief and the municipality of Whistler and we're able to continue our operations," he said in an interview. "I know that Alpine (neighbourhood) has water trucks and all the equipment standing by that the fire chief has required.

"We're starting a little bit earlier in the morning and we're playing it day by day. It'll be up to the fire chief and his staff to determine what we need to do and if we get shut down."

Mintak, based out of Vancouver, couldn't say exactly what time construction work will be starting in the morning, although a recent bulletin shows that daily construction will now begin at 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday.

The shoulder-widening project is about to begin grade reduction work at Nordic Hill, a phase that involves placing road sub-grade on Highway 99 and Hillcrest Drive, according to the bulletin. Alpine has chosen to complete the work between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., necessitating 30-minute delays during the shift.

For now, however, shoulder-widening work will commence at 8 a.m. and it's restricted to the Nordic Hill re-profiling. All operations at the Brio area have been shut down and the Whistler Fire Chief is examining work at Creekside to determine whether it's far enough from the forest.

Whistler is currently showing an "Extreme" fire danger rating, the highest it can achieve. That rating comes with restrictions on various activities including construction close to forest areas. At this rating there are no power tools or machinery to be used within 30 feet of the forest interface.

There will also be night closures between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Monday through Friday, although Mintak said he wasn't sure precisely when these closures would happen.

"We've had to move a couple of conflicting gas lines within the Nordic Hill area," he said. "So it's going to be a couple of weeks. There's not a definite date yet, we'll definitely have lots of advance notice."

Once that happens they'll be concentrated solely in the Nordic Hill area on Highway 99. Mintak expects that traffic will be very light between 3 and 5 a.m. and that if anyone needs to get through during these times that construction workers will flag them in the right direction.

The fire hazard rating could eventually necessitate a full closure of construction work but Mintak said that hasn't had to happen yet. If it does, however, it could definitely impact Alpine's construction schedule.

"Right now it hasn't, but there's certainly that potential down the road," he said.

Starting in the fall the highway will convert to a three-lane configuration for the Olympics. The configuration will be painted out in the fall but none of that will begin until the shoulder-widening project is completed.

"There'll only be two lanes in use until the Olympics," Mintak said. "The third lane will be in use during the Olympics and then after the Olympics it's closed."

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