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Highway upgrade will reduce travel time

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Driving time between Vancouver and Whistler should be reduced by 25 minutes

It’s likely the planned upgrades to the Sea to Sky Highway will help shave 25 minutes off the two-hour commute during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

"You should get some pretty good savings over the existing time with the road done and for the Olympic period," said Peter Milburn, the Ministry of Transportation’s director for the Sea to Sky project.

"For the Olympic period and Olympic travel, you should get good savings anywhere in and around 25 minutes."

The timesavings will come as a result of several things including the extensive $600 million upgrades which include making most of the highway three lanes.

Also factored in were streamlined traffic control systems, which will manage traffic lights in towns and other vehicles on the road, and the use of professional drivers for Olympic transportation systems.

It is also assumed that the 700 buses, which will be used to move some 35,000 spectators to and from Whistler every day, will be reliable.

Travel outside the Olympic timeframe should be cut by about 10 to 12 minutes.

Jack Poole, chairman and CEO of the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation, also mentioned the expected time savings in a briefing with reporters, the day after the head of a visiting International Olympic Committee evaluation team caused a stir by commenting that Whistler was "too far" from Vancouver.

The upgrades are due to begin in May 2004 and finish in 2009.

The current plan has four lanes from Horseshoe Bay to Lions Bay, two lanes from Lions Bay to Porteau Cove, three lanes from Porteau Cove to Squamish, four lanes from Squamish to Culliton Creek and three lanes the rest of the way to Whistler.

For the Olympics the rail bed would be paved from Lions Bay to Porteau Cove, making 75 per cent of the Sea to Sky a three-lane highway.

According to the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation’s bid book its $86.7 million transportation plan will move 70 per cent of the spectators by bus every day along the highway to Squamish. From Squamish to Whistler 100 per cent will be bussed.

Thirty per cent of spectators will be ferried from cruise ship terminals in Vancouver and Richmond on 16 passenger-only ferries to Squamish. The trip is expected to take 43 minutes.

The ferry option must be part of the plan in case the Sea to Sky Highway has to be closed.

Salzburg, Austria, Vancouver’s chief rival for the 2010 Games, proposes to hold alpine, freestyle and curling events in Kitzbuhel, 79 km away along a two-lane highway that takes 90 minutes to drive.

Plans to use a B.C Rail line between Squamish and Whistler have been shelved, except for a short 15-minute ride from the Callaghan Valley, site of the Nordic events, to Whistler Creekside. It is hoped this service will be used by about 12,000 spectators a day and will reduce congestion along the highway.

On competition days the highway would be open to Olympic traffic only between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. Locals would be issued special permits to drive. There will be no public parking in Whistler so it would be pointless to drive to the resort.

The upgrade to the Sea to Sky highway must be done sooner or later, but there is no doubt the Games are acting as a catalyst. Without the event it’s likely the improvements would begin in two to four years and take considerably longer, to defer large costs on a yearly basis and minimize impacts on local communities.

Currently the upgrades call for delays between Vancouver and Whistler lasting four to five years. There will be 10- to 30-minute delays and closures lasting two to four hours on 100 days of the year. Daytime closures will be necessary on about 35 of these days.

Vancouver and Salzburg are competing against Pyeongchang, Korea for the Games. The winner will be announced in July.

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