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Olympic transportation plans broken down in numbers

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If the sheer glory of winning an Olympic gold medal isn't enough inspiration to fire up 2010 athletes, maybe the chance to ride the Sea to Sky corridor via helicopter will fan the flames.

This proposal, which will ensure athletes can get to Vancouver on time for the evening medal presentations, will be included in the 2010 mini-bid book, to be submitted to the IOC at the end of May.

"We have to submit a plan with what we know exists," said Dena Coward, manager of transportation for the 2010 Bid Corporation.

All of the proposed transportation requirements for the bid, including helicopter flights, were the topic of last week's Olympic InfoZone meeting at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club cabin in Creekside.

About 20 locals showed up Wednesday, April 10 to hear how 43,000 people were going to make their way up the Sea to Sky Corridor during the 2010 Games, if Vancouver-Whistler wins the bid.

The total number of people are based on the following estimates during peak times (roughly 60 per cent of the time):

• 30,000 spectators

• 6,000 volunteers

• 700 media

• 1,200 sponsors

• 100 V.I.P.s

• 5,000 day skiers

The biggest group, the spectators, must be loaded within a three-hour period.

"That still means there will be people leaving Vancouver at 4 in the morning potentially, so it could get ugly," said Coward.

To accommodate these numbers, Highway 99 must expand to three lanes of traffic, said Coward, with two lanes heading northbound and one southbound.

But in addition to the expanded highway, the transportation committee has also come up with a multi-mode solution, including travelling via bus, train, boat and helicopter.

"We're trying to be flexible. If a road closes down, we have rail and marine," said Coward.

About 1,500 buses will be needed to move spectators and volunteers from Vancouver and Squamish to Whistler. About 400 buses would be arriving and departing Whistler on peak days.

In addition, about 20 to 30 high-speed passenger-only ferries will ship people from Vancouver to Squamish. From Squamish these passengers will then make their way to Whistler via bus or rail.

The rail transit will be made up of roughly 50 bi-level commuter cars, similar to the West Coast Express rail cars, to take passengers from Squamish to Whistler.

"Private vehicles in the corridor will be restricted to residents through a permit system," said Coward.

The details of that system have yet to be worked out by the RCMP, she said.

Event ticket-holders coming up from the city will not be able to drive their cars. Instead, each event ticket will include a ticket for some form of public transportation.

"As residents of the corridor, you will have access to the corridor," she said.

But instead of commuting in private vehicles, the transportation committee would prefer residents take free Olympic transit during the Games, to ease congestion along the highway.

They are also hoping local Whistler spectators will take public transit to the events.

Whistler Transit, which currently operates 25 buses, will need roughly 125 buses to handle the Olympic traffic within the municipality.

"A lot of people going to the (Whistler) events will be based here and will need to travel within Whistler," said Bill Murray, chair of the 2010 Bid Whistler Transportation Work Group.

Spectators coming from Vancouver will be encouraged to stay on the bus or train that brought them into Whistler in order to prevent added pressure on the Whistler public transit.

One interested resident asked Murray how the bid committee plans to ensure locals will take the bus rather than their own cars.

His response was that the buses will be free and frequent, and it will be very difficult to park at any of the events. There will be no parking for spectators or volunteers at any event site.

He admits that if locals are going to Nesters to pick up groceries during the Games, they will still most likely drive there rather than take the bus.

"It's more of an issue encouraging them rather than coercing them," said Murray.

For those locals who do not want to take the bus, there will be another option other than their car.

As part of its sustainability initiative, the Olympic sites in Whistler are projected to have cross-country lock ups for those who want to ski to the competitions. Likewise, in Vancouver, there will be bike lock ups for commuters who prefer to ride there.

TransLink, the public transit system in Vancouver, currently moves 400,000 people per day. That traffic is expected to dip by 15 to 20 per cent during the Olympics as people stay at home or find alternative modes of transportation.

"Hopefully we can reduce commuter traffic so we can put on Olympic traffic," said Coward.

Olympic traffic in Vancouver is estimated to be around 195,000 each day.

Again, spectators and volunteers will be strongly encouraged to take public transportation, as the Olympic venues in the city will not have parking.

The plans for moving people between Vancouver and Whistler, which have been about one year in the making, hinge on the fact that Highway 99 will be a three-lane highway.

"The Premier supports the Olympics and he understands that something has to be done to the corridor," said Coward.

The Bid Corporation is also interested to hear about any highway upgrades that may come from the Ministry of Transportation in the ensuing months.

Coward made the same presentation at Monday's council meeting.

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