By Vivian Moreau
Although Sea to Sky community leaders, police and residents are calling for tougher restrictions on motorists travelling Highway 99 without snow tires or chains, the area’s MLA is reluctant to introduce legislation that would designate the roadway as a mountain highway.
Local RCMP say there would be fewer foul-ups like the Dec. 15
gridlock that left hundreds of motorists stranded near Whistler and in which
one motorist died of a heart attack if the province designated the highway as a
mountain or winter highway.
Cpl. Scott Bowden is stationed at Squamish RCMP detachment and
speaks for Sea to Sky traffic services, an RCMP division focused on improving
highway safety. Bowden said a mountain or highway designation would mean the
message not to travel in winter without snow tires could get to motorists
before they set out on Highway 99. Staff at border crossings, travel agents,
and proper signage would let motorists know that snow tires or chains would be
required for travel from Vancouver to Whistler in winter months. Bowden said at
present local RCMP don’t have the manpower for constant road checks to turn
back poorly equipped vehicles during inclement weather.
“Someone can come on this highway today with all-season or just
summer tires which would get them all the way to Whistler, but if the weather
changes now they probably won’t go anywhere but in the ditch,” Bowden said.
But the Ministry of Transportation says mountain or winter
highway designation does not exist within provincial legislation.
“It’s semantics,” said Transportation spokesperson Jeff Knight.
“The question seems to be why don’t you put up a sign, make it mandatory (to
have snow tires or chains), but there is no such thing as a mountain highway
Provincial legislation would have to be introduced and passed
to implement such a designation. But local MLA Joan McIntyre is reluctant to
support that, saying such a requirement could put a damper on tourism.
“If all of a sudden you tell people they have to have winter
tires from October to April that’s going to cause people to go ‘oh yeah, well
I’ll go somewhere else. I’m not going to bother to go to Whistler,’” she said.
Car rental agencies also do not support the idea of requiring
vehicles to be equipped with snow tires or chains. National Car Rental says its
fleet comes factory-equipped with all-season radials but it’s not the tires
that cause traffic tie-ups, it’s the drivers.