By Holly Fraughton
The Sea-To-Sky Highway upgrade officially passed its halfway point Tuesday.
"Reaching this milestone shows how the combined expertise of the public and private sectors will deliver improved safety, efficiency and other benefits to the travelling public," Premier Gordon Campbell said in a press release.
Completion of the 10 kilometre stretch of highway between Furry Creek and Gonzales Creek brought the grand total to 59 kilometres of the 100 kilometre upgrade.
The $600-million highway improvement project is supposed to improve reliability and safety for the public.
The Sea-To-Sky highway is also part of the plan to link a network of hydrogen fuel stations, stretching from Whistler to Vancouver, Victoria, Surrey and eventually as far south as Baja, California.
The highway improvement project is a public-private partnership. The S2S Transportation Group has a $400 million capital component in its 25-year contract to design, build, finance and operate the highway. The province has invested $200 million.
Upgrades financed by the provincial government include the three lanes between Culliton Creek and Cheakamus Canyon that were completed in 2004 and the four-lane section from Ansell Place to Lions Bay that was done in December 2005.
S2S’s share of the project includes the four-lane section from Horseshoe Bay to Ansell Place; the section from Lions Bay to Murrin Park; a four-lane section from Murrin Park through Squamish; and three-lanes from Squamish to Whistler.
"The public is once again seeing the benefits of a private-public partnership, especially with the innovative construction methods being utilized on this project," said Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon.
"I am extraordinarily proud that this major project is ahead of schedule and remains on budget."
Aside from improving safety on the roads, Native leaders also hope the project will contribute to their communities.
Last December, the province and the Lil'wat First Nation signed an agreement allowing for widening of the highway through the Lil'wat's traditional territory in exchange for land and funding for economic development.
"The Lil'wat want to share in the economic benefits the new highway is bringing, and will continue to bring to the region," Chief Leonard Andrew said.
"The agreement we reached with the province allows our members to pursue employment, training and other opportunities."
The province is also working with the Squamish Nation on a similar agreement.
The highway improvement project should be completed by 2009.