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Musical Road proposed for Hwy 99

'rOde to Joy' project would embed Beethoven in sea to sky highway



Imagine yourself on the Sea to Sky Highway, winding your way up the pavement from Squamish and Howe Sound, anticipating the beauty of the peaks and powder of Whistler and Blackcomb.

Now imagine those sights joined by the familiar melody of one of Beethoven's most famous works — reverberating through your vehicle.

That's the vision brought forward to council last week by Belcarra resident and longtime Whistler visitor Ian MacDonald.

"I think it would be interesting," MacDonald said. "I think it would be a tremendous aural added component to the entrance to Whistler, especially for people who have never been there. I think it would just be that extra kick in the pants, like, 'Oh my God, look at all of this,' and then, 'Oh my God, listen to that!'"

MacDonald's proposal suggests cutting grooves into the highway just southwest of Function Junction — similar to the type used for rumble strips — that would play Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 when driven over at a certain speed.

The symphony — more commonly known as "Ode to Joy" — was chosen for its familiarity.

"Someone did suggest Lady Gaga," MacDonald said with a laugh.

"I just think that 'Ode to Joy' is simply that: An ode to joy, and it's a classic piece that people, I think from almost any culture, can relate to."

MacDonald took his proposal to council seeking an endorsement before pursuing the project any further. Should council decide it's something they'd like to pursue, MacDonald would need to submit a proposal to the Ministry of Transportation, as the stretch of highway is in provincial jurisdiction.

If the project does move forward, it would be the first of its kind in Canada.

Similar "musical roads" have been built in Denmark, Japan, South Korea and Lancaster, California.

For the City of Lancaster, the musical road has brought international attention.

"We actually have people that come, that make it a destination, and while they're out here of course they shop at the restaurants, (and) fill their tanks," said Joseph Cabral, communications manager with the City of Lancaster.

"It has become a destination point."

The road — a stretch of highway on the outskirts of the city that plays the "William Tell Overture" — has been featured on TV shows such as Top Gear and Penn and Teller Tell a Lie. It was even featured in a 2008 article in the Wall Street Journal.

The Lancaster musical highway was first built earlier that year as part of a commercial shoot for Honda, and later repaved and moved after the city began receiving noise complaints from homeowners nearby.

"(But) for the relatively small amount of complaints, we had a huge amount of positives," Cabral said.

"Which is why the city council said, 'Well the people obviously love it, let's just move it, let's not get rid of it.'"

The hardest part about putting in the musical highway was getting the tune right, which amounted to a lot of trial and error in the spacing of the grooves, said Ray Hunt, capital program manager with the City of Lancaster.

"But the actual construction is pretty easy. It's the same equipment that you use for rumble strips on highways," Hunt said.

The physical construction of the highway took about two weeks, and cost the city approximately $30,000 USD, Hunt said, but the exposure that comes with it has more than made up for any costs involved.

"People say it's random and cool, unique, clever and free," Hunt said. "For the small cost it was to create this, it's gotten our name out there. it's free for people to ride and it's just something that people talk about that's really, fairly inexpensive."


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