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More study for district's worst intersection

Squamish and Whistler concerned about pressures on Sea to Sky highway



The most dangerous intersection in the regional district is set for yet more study early in 2016 as pressures mount on the Sea to Sky Highway.

The ongoing studying has raised the ire of Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman, who wants to see more action to fix the problems at Highway 99 and Cleveland Avenue, an intersection that has seen 186 crashes in five years, according to statistics from ICBC. That's more than three times higher than any other intersection in the Squamish Lillooet Regional District (SLRD).

"I hate to say it but it seems like a lot of lip service is given and not a lot of action," said a frustrated Heintzman. "I think we were certainly under the impression that things, in terms of the analysis, had moved forward a lot more than it actually had."

The District of Squamish is now funding a joint safety study, along with ICBC and the provincial transportation ministry. That is expected to take place in the first few months of 2016.

"And in the meantime we have more accidents there," added the mayor.

"It was poorly designed when the highway improvement project went through."

The Sea to Sky Highway underwent a $600 million upgrade in the lead up to the 2010 Olympic Games; the highway through Squamish was redeveloped at that time.

ICBC's crash stats span from 2009 to 2013. The Cleveland Ave. intersection far outstrips any other district intersection, in terms of crash volume.

The next worst intersection in Squamish was Highway 99 and Mamquam Road, a turning lane, with 61 crashes.

The worst intersection in Whistler, by comparison, is Highway 99 and Lorimer Rd., a turning lane, with 51 crashes in the same five-year period.

"I know firsthand that that's a very dangerous intersection (at Cleveland Ave.) because I've had many, many files arriving out of that intersection over the years in my role as a personal injury lawyer," said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

"The municipality will be, as part of the Transportation Advisory Group (TAG), looking at pinch points throughout the entire Sea to Sky corridor and certainly the District of Squamish is one the stakeholders in the TAG so we will be listening to them and gathering evidence from them about this intersection and other pinch points along the corridor."

Meanwhile, concerns are mounting over the ongoing capacity and safety issues on the Sea to Sky Highway, particularly in light of several closures due to crashes this winter season. The summer is just as busy, if not busier. It is no longer the isolated odd long weekend that snarls the road.

"It's already at capacity on most busy weekends... particularly in the summer," said Heintzman. "We have our own thriving tourism entity here in Squamish and you pile that on top of the traffic going to Whistler and you have a traffic jam on any Sunday or Friday."

And still, there is ongoing development slated in the corridor from the internal development in Squamish with the Oceanfront lands, and development targeted south at Britannia Beach and north with the Garibaldi at Squamish proposal on Brohm Ridge. There is also a proposal for a driving route to the Sunshine Coast via Squamish.

Heintzman added: "We need to start taking pressure off that southern portion of the highway and we really need to think about if we add more capacity in the Sea to Sky what needs to be done in order to not compromise what's already here."

The ministry of transportation confirmed it would be doing a safety review study of the Cleveland Ave., intersection this year and any potential improvements will be identified through this study.