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Province will listen to highway consultant

Whistler council supports his call for concrete median barrier



Retired highway consultant Ross Walker thinks he has a chance at making the Sea to Sky Highway safer for drivers.

On Monday he asked for council’s help to get the province to open the books, and their minds, on the $600 million highway upgrade to see if there’s a way to build a concrete median barrier from Vancouver to Whistler. Council unanimously supported his initiative to see additional safety measures for the highway.

"The people that have designed the highway (upgrades), they’ve done what they think is the best for them," said Walker. "I’m not sure that I can do it (and make it better) but I’d like to have a try at doing it because every time I drive up that highway I’m scared, and I’m not the only one. Everyone I’ve talked to feels the same way."

By Wednesday the province had agreed to sit down with Walker, let him see the plans and discuss whether or not there are alternatives, even though the plans have been finalized and a private company has been awarded the contract for the upgrades.

"I heard about the (council) meeting," said Peter Milburn, executive project director of the Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project. "I’ve asked staff to get a hold of Mr. Walker and explore what his ideas are.

"You never want to exclude someone’s ideas. You want to make sure you’ve covered off all the bases."

For 40 years Walker has been working on highway projects in Canada and around the world. He was the principal author of the Canadian Highway Design Manual.

He, along with several other community members who wrote letters to council, believes a concrete median barrier is the best way to reduce the number of head on fatalities on Highway 99.

In the last decade there have been 30 fatalities on the road between Lions Bay and Whistler. During the same time Walker said more than 750 collisions were centre-line related.

"The only way you can stop a cross-centre accident is a barrier," explained Walker this week.

"They (the province) have very wisely put a barrier in the four lane sections (of the upgrades). Why? Because otherwise people will go across the barrier."

At the same time he recognizes the difficulty in putting the concrete barrier in the sections with two or three lanes. Walker said he’s never seen that done before and concedes there may not be enough space. A barrier would require a one metre widening on each side of the two and three lane sections.

Milburn admits the barrier is the best way to prevent head on collisions but on a two lane highway, a barrier can create more problems.

"The problem with one lane (on each side) is that any type of vehicle, even if it’s just a vehicle that runs out of gas, blocks the whole highway because you can’t get around it," he said.

Still, he thinks it’s worth the effort to investigate it further with Walker.

Without seeing the plans, Walker said it’s difficult to estimate a cost for the barrier. But he predicts it could be about 5 per cent more than the cost of the upgrades, or $30 million.

When asked why, now that he’s retired, he would spend his time and energy trying to get the province to change its course of action, Walker’s answer was simple.

"I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t do it because I’ve done highway design all my life and to me, safety has always been a very big priority," he said.

"I’m not criticizing what they’re (the province) doing, it’s just that I have a lot of experience in doing things like this. Where most people fear to tread, I’m not afraid if I feel that it’s going to do what should be done."