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Province says no to continuous barrier

Whistler’s highway consultant rebuts provincial arguments



By Alison Taylor

Retired highway consultant Ross Walker said he’s not a bit surprised the province doesn’t support his calls for a continuous median barrier down Highway 99.

But that’s not going to stop him campaigning for the barrier as work continues on the $600 million upgrade to the Sea to Sky Highway.

“It’s a matter of trading off degrees of safety,” said Walker. “We know we kill people when they go across that centre line.”

Walker, with the support of Whistler council, was able to review the province’s plans for the highway upgrades in February and wrote a report that shows ways to build a continuous barrier.

This week the executive director for highway improvement project, Peter Milburn, told Pique Newsmagazine while they respect Walker’s work, they will be proceeding as planned — with the barrier in the four-lane sections and other safety improvements, such as reflectors and smoother curves, in the three-lane sections.

“It’s clear to us that is doesn’t make sense to put a median barrier in substandard locations,” said Milburn.

He gave two key reasons for this conclusion from a technical point of view.

If a vehicle stops across one lane of traffic, the only lane of traffic, it wouldn’t allow emergency vehicles or snow clearing equipment to get through.

“In a four-lane section that’s not a problem, because they break down in one lane and then you just go around them,” said Milburn.

Secondly, installing barriers on an existing road can obscure sight lines and prevent vehicles from stopping safely if there is an obstacle on the road.

“What we don’t want to do is create a safety hazard in trying to make it safer,” said Milburn.

He will be outlining these concerns to Whistler council at the Tuesday April 18 meeting.

At the same time he will give up an update on the highway construction progress.

Walker agrees the arguments are legitimate. They are the same arguments he heard when he first pitched his proposal. But he said if you think outside the box and if you weigh the trade offs of installing a continuous barrier versus not installing one, it’s possible to find the answers.

“There are answers to all these things if you want to look for them,” he said Thursday morning, upon learning of the province’s position.

“It all boils down to critically looking at what the trade off’s are,” he said.

His proposal calls for breaks in the barrier at every kilometre, which should solve some of those problems. If there is an accident, for example, the police can still direct vehicles through the breaks in the barrier and for a one-kilometer distance use one of the two lanes heading in the opposite direction. That would keep traffic moving in both directions.

His solution isn’t perfected Walker admitted, but it could reduce the number of fatalities on the highway due to crossing the centre line.

Walker will be at Tuesday’s council meeting to hear Milburn’s presentation. He said if Whistler is to get the province’s attention now residents must begin a letter-writing campaign to the premier and the transportation minister.