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Multiple closures made for bad week on highway

VANOC not worried about keeping highway open during Games



In total, the Sea to Sky Highway was closed for up to 18 hours last week as a result of two accidents, an extended closure related to highway construction, and the surprising discovery of explosives in the woods surrounding Furry Creek.

Some of the delays occurred while International Olympic Committee officials were reviewing preparations for the Games, prompting the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC) to address the issue at a press conference.

The delays started on Saturday, Sept. 8 when Highway 99 to the south of Britannia Beach was closed for about an hour following an accident involving a motorcycle and truck.

On Monday, Sept. 9, a logging truck lost its load just south of Whistler. Logs struck two vehicles and injured the passengers in one of the vehicles. The highway was closed for more than three hours before opening for single lane alternating traffic.

On Thursday the highway was closed yet again after blasting crews dislodged more rock than expected on two occasions. That morning the highway was closed until 7:30 a.m. between Lions Bay and Squamish, when it was originally scheduled to reopen at 5 a.m.

That afternoon, the highway was closed for up to seven hours in the Furry Creek area, according to media reports, after more rock fell as crews blasted in the area during another scheduled closure.

According to a spokesperson for the Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project, neither incident represented any risk to the public, and the delays were mainly the result of geotechnical experts assessing why more rock fell than expected.

He also took issue with the media reporting the incident as slides, when both were the result of scheduled construction work. The spokesman does not consider the first incident to be a closure. He also said the delay from the other slide was less than was reported in the news.

Finally, on Saturday, Sept. 15 the RCMP closed the highway for just over an hour after a hiker discovered a cache of explosives in the woods about 2 km north of Furry Creek. Because they were considered unsafe to transport, they were detonated near the location where they were found. That incident is still under investigation.

According to a follow-up report issued on Tuesday, the explosives have been in the area for a long time, and pre-date the highway improvement construction that got underway in July 2005.

VANOC chair John Furlong said the highway closures were not a concern for Olympic organizers or delegates from the IOC. For one thing, he said, athletes themselves will already be housed in Whistler and will be able to get to the athletic venues in the result of any highway closures to the south of the Callaghan Valley. VANOC has also rehearsed scenarios such as road closures and will be coming up with a plan to rapidly deal with any accidents, slides or other incidents.

The highway improvement project is on schedule to be completed by 2009. The section of the highway where two logging trucks have overturned this year will be straightened and made safer by the highway improvements. As well, there are plans to restrict highway use during the Games to residents, businesses, and buses and vehicles related to the Olympics and Paralympics.

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