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The four-year squeeze

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Corridor politicians say highway plans will devastate communities during construction, alternate route preferred

Whistler council is scrambling to gather together key area stakeholders in an attempt to collectively examine the impacts of proposed upgrades to Highway 99.

Those upgrades, which include four years of road closures on the Sea to Sky Highway, could have a dramatic effect on the corridor communities.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said the municipality is trying to gauge community reaction and determine if there is consensus on any one option.

"What we need to do is understand what they are proposing, what is the mitigation, what do we think the impact is," O’Reilly said.

"We need more information and we need to do that very, very quickly so that we can actually have some influence on the outcome."

The municipality will develop a framework for how all stakeholders will receive the same information about upgrading the highway that was recently presented by the Ministry of Transportation.

There are plans for a community forum so that Whistler residents are fully engaged in the process. A survey may also be circulated.

"At the end of six weeks of consultation we should be able to have what we think is a fair, representative community opinion on the proposal," said O’Reilly.

The quick community consultation comes on the heels of last week’s Ministry of Transportation presentation, detailing three main options for upgrading the highway.

The ministry said a final decision is due in the fall.

The seemingly preferred government scenario of widening the existing highway to three lanes (four lanes in some areas) will result in 12 hour closures, four days a week over the course of four years.

The road will be closed for eight hours during the night and four hours during the day, according to Peter Milburn, project director for the Sea to Sky Corridor with the Ministry of Transportation.

Even without the formal government studies, corridor councillors know that major road closures on the Sea to Sky highway could devastate businesses and communities.

"We believe there are other answers," said Squamish Mayor Corinne Lonsdale.

"Squamish council is very concerned about the impact of the closures that are required," she said.

Doug Blakey, a Pemberton councillor, heard the ministry’s presentation on Tuesday night at a council meeting.

"Businesses can’t stand closures," said Blakey who has lived in the corridor for the past 30 years.

He recalled a major rockslide in the canyon about seven years ago. The road was completely closed for three days, followed by intermittent shutdowns in the ensuing days, he said.

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