From the beginning, proponents of the Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project have been careful to punch up the safety aspects of the highway rather than the ability to drive faster. They did acknowledge that trip times would be shortened, which is a side benefit of straightening sharp corners, widening lanes, improving sightlines, creating more passing opportunities, and putting overpasses over rail lines. Once construction is complete, travel times from Whistler to West Vancouver are expected to decrease by as much as 30 minutes.
While I can see the travel time between Squamish and Whistler may be a little shorter, I worry that the section between West Vancouver and Squamish may actually wind up being slower.
It’s been proven time and time again that expanding highways only results in more cars on the roads, as highways attract more real estate development and the kind of suburban planning that makes transit expensive and encourages car usage. New highways are also a selling feature for these new satellite communities, attracting people who want to move out of the city because of the high real estate prices, quality of life issues, and the opportunity to own a big house with a backyard. The same thing is now happening to the Sea to Sky Highway.
West Vancouver is growing, and no doubt developers are already eyeing the new possibilities opened up by the highway expansion and realignment.
The Eagleridge Bluffs Coalition has suggested that the decision to route the highway through the bluffs was influenced by the fact that it opened a parcel of privately owned and previously inaccessible land to development.
Although that suspicion has yet to be proven, there are already several other developments in the works that were likely influenced by the upgrade and expansion of the Sea to Sky Highway.
At Porteau Cove, the Squamish Nation is planning to build up to 1,400 new homes, which Concord Pacific is planning to sell to Vancouver commuters with the phrase “Come home to nature, Live close to the city.” The website also boasts travel times of “less than 25 minutes to downtown Vancouver via the new Sea to Sky Highway (2009)” — presumably at 5 a.m. when the Lions Gate Bridge is empty.
A little further up the road, Furry Creek has about 10 homes left in the Ocean’s Crest development, and is preparing for phase two of construction. When all is said and done there will be about 920 new homes in Furry Creek and a population of 2,200.
Once again, commuters seem to be a main target. According to Furry Creek Real Estate, “Furry Creek is located off Highway 99 and only 25 minutes from West Vancouver, approximately 45 to 50 minutes to downtown Vancouver or world renowned Whistler Resort… Recent and planned improvements to the Sea to Sky Olympic Highway (sic) will result in even shorter commute times bringing Furry Creek closer to downtown restaurants and theatres…”