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Highway to Paradise

After four years the Sea to Sky Highway is ready to roll



Doug Phillips has done a lot of driving in the last year.

He, wife Sheila and kitty Germaine have travelled by motor home across the U.S. and Canada fulfilling a lifetime dream. Part of that dream was to drive the Sea to Sky Highway.

"We knew we wanted to come this way so we timed it so the road would be mostly finished," said Doug sipping a cup of Joe at a local breakfast spot recently.

"We weren't disappointed. We have driven all over and the views and mountains on that highway, to see the sea that way and the colours of the leaves, then finally pulling into Whistler, well, driving just doesn't get better."

Said Sheila: "And the road is wide and safe. I think a lot more people will come visit now."

Attracting more people to Whistler, which accounts for 17 per cent of the Provinces' tourism revenues, was one of the reasons for improving the highway.

And then there was the safety issue. Sometimes called "The Highway of Death," the Sea to Sky Highway has had about 300 accidents a year annually.

But the real catalyst to getting the job underway came when the International Olympic Committee said the Sea to Sky Highway needed to be upgraded before the 2010 Games for Vancouver's bid to host the Olympics to be successful.

It wasn't an easy project. There was no doubt that the years of construction - work began in 2003 - would create frustration for residents and visitors alike. From the start tourism officials and other stakeholders worked with contractors to make sure that closures did not occur at peak tourism and travel times, while a good part of the work happened in the small hours of the morning.

"They did a really good job of timing the road closures so they wouldn't interfere with the key travel times," said Arlene Schieven, vice-president of marketing for Tourism Whistler.

"It was all done with tourism in mind which was really great for us."

Keeping traffic moving throughout construction was central to the construction plan said Rob Ahola, director of highway construction for the Province.

"One of the key goals of the project was to minimize disruptions so we had traffic management requirements embedded in the contract and the contractor has to live up to those," he said.

"As you can imagine if we went into the mountain's side and made large blasts the road would be closed down for considerable amounts of time so that forced us to build out toward the water side... from Horsehoe Bay to Squamish."

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