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Mayors emphasize highway safety

Mayors of Lions Bay and Squamish say action is needed to increase safety



Over the last year, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has invested more than $1.1 million to improve safety along the Sea to Sky Highway.

But according to mayors in both Lions Bay and Squamish, more investment is needed — and fast.

An average of 19,000 vehicle trips are made through the communities each day.

In Squamish, the investment has paid for one kilometre of shoulder widening at Britannia Hill. The paved shoulder is designed to increase safety for cyclists. The ministry has also installed a new warning light at Mamquam Forest Service Road. The light alerts traffic when logging trucks access the highway.

Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman welcomes the improvement, but she said there is an urgent need to address the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and Highway 99.

"It's been a little frustrating because there's been slow action on what's been known to be a problematic and costly intersection," explained Heintzman.

Between 2013 and 2015, accidents at the intersection led to $2.4 million worth of ICBC claims, she said. And that "doesn't take into account all of the other indebted costs like emergency services and clean-up," she added.

Heintzman said she has met with B.C.'s new Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Claire Trevena, and stressed the need for safety upgrades.

The Cleveland Avenue intersection is the most dangerous intersection in the regional district. According to ICBC stats, it saw 186 crashes between 2009 and 2013. That's more than three times higher than any other intersection in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD).

"They certainly could have fixed it for much less than has been spent on (the claims and related costs)," said Heintzman. "There's a very clear business case, and a human case, that this intersection needs to be fixed."

The fix, she said, would cost between $2 and $3 million dollars and would involve adding an acceleration lane to the highway just below Cleveland Avenue. Because there isn't one, there are lots of rear-enders there, she said.

Down the highway, a 1.4-kilometre concrete median barrier was installed between Lions Bay Avenue and Brunswick Beach Road, replacing the landscaped median that was once there.

Lions Bay Mayor Karl Buhr anticipates the median will lead to more, though fewer deadly, accidents. "I expect accidents to go up with the barrier, because people will hit it," he said. "Previously drivers went over the median; we could tell that from the dirt and broken trees."

Buhr said people simply drive too fast through the Lions Bay section of the highway.

"The speed through the highway is too fast for road conditions," he said.

Whistler and Squamish commuters and people unfamiliar with the area are the main culprits, he said.

"It's designated as a rural highway, but it looks like a freeway," said Buhr. "We've just had a speed review done. Nobody — not anybody — drives the speed limit through Lions Bay."

Buhr said he is "getting some traction" on bringing in average-speed-over-distance technology. The technology recognizes when you enter and leave a specific corridor. People who drive through it too fast are mailed a fine.

"We don't want the gotch'ya," he said, referring to photo-radar technology. "We actually want people to slow down."

In the Pemberton area, the ministry has begun a highway-shoulder project at Nairn Falls Provincial Park. Workers will excavate and rebuild the highway shoulders in order to improve safety for cyclists.

In a press release on the upgrades, Minister Trevena said: "Safety upgrades are important year round, but they are especially important when the winter weather hits.

"We are focused on continually improving the Sea to Sky Highway, making it safer and more efficient for all motorists and creating safer cycling opportunities for people along this scenic route."