News » Whistler

Multi-modal option best solution to transportation problems



Trains, planes and automobiles? Well, not exactly.

Trains, buses and an improved highway are the way to fix transportation tie-ups in the Sea-to-Sky corridor, says Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly.

"I favour a multi-modal approach," said O’Reilly, adding that this is not, however, the municipality’s official stance.

O’Reilly’s comments come on the heels of a major transportation study released last week by the Ministry of Transportation and Highways.

"The study is just another piece of information, another step on the way," he told Pique Newsmagazine in an interview.

The report considers the region’s transportation needs for the next 25 years, including those for tourism, commuting, commercial traffic and the Olympic bid.

The study’s major findings suggest the section of asphalt that stretches between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish be expanded to four lanes. The study also recommends that a new express train system be put into service in the corridor.

According to the report, close to 14,000 vehicles currently use the highway each day. More than 19,000 vehicles use the highway on weekends.

The study also identifies three other solutions to solving the corridor’s transportation woes including: widening Highway 99 to four lanes between Horseshoe Bay and Whistler, and adding new tunnels; improving inter-city bus service and facilities, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, "queue jumper" lanes, wider highway shoulders and more highway signs and markers; and expanding rail service along the B.C. Rail line at peak-demand times, most likely five times per day.

Cost estimates range from $365-million to $1.34-billion.

O’Reilly said the improvements would have to be paid for by the provincial government and, if Ottawa throws its official support behind 2010 Olympic bid, the federal government.

The report does not make any specific recommendations or champion any particular mode of transportation. It does, however, offer information to help federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments determine viable solutions and development options.

"It’s a good start," said O’Reilly. "But there’s still work to be done."

According to O’Reilly, the corridor’s transportation problems have not been talked about recently at Squamish-Lillooet Regional District meetings.

The SLRD oversees planning – including transportation – throughout the corridor from Lions Bay to Lillooet, which is part of the area looked at by the provincial study.

O’Reilly said a regional growth strategy is currently being discussed. "We’re in the process of articulating our community visions for the corridor."

Meanwhile, a B.C. Rail spokesperson says the Crown corporation will not run freight trains at peak times if Vancouver-Whistler wins the 2010 Olympics.

"We’ve been heavily involved in the Olympic discussions," B.C. Rail’s Alan Dever said from North Vancouver in an interview.

Olympic bid organizers have called the Sea-to-Sky Highway an "Achilles heel," which could derail any hopes of hosting the Games.

Expanded rail service – in the form of commuter trains similar to the West Coast Express that shuttles between the Fraser Valley and downtown Vancouver – could be part of a sensible solution.

Dever said freight trains bound for Vancouver from B.C’s hinterland could be re-routed via CN rail lines to Kamloops or Prince Rupert.

"We won’t be shutting down business in B.C. for three weeks," he said.

But Dever nixed the idea of a high-speed rail line in the corridor, such as the proposed Cascadia route from Portland, Ore. to Vancouver.

"That’s not an option here," he said. "There area too many curves and steep grades. It would cost billions of dollars."

West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Ted Nebbeling could not be reached by Pique Newsmagazine for comment. Nebbeling, a former Whistler mayor, is also the provincial minister responsible for the 2010 Olympic bid.