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
“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
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.