Opinion » Editorial

Time to get in the driver's seat



In the next couple of weeks Whistler will see the release of an updated Economic Partnership Initiative Report.

While the numbers may surprise us, one thing we already know is that the resort is getting busier and busier.

As B.C. and indeed Canada continue to suffer from a low Canadian dollar across some business sectors, the change in value of our currency has meant ongoing success here in the resort.

Of course the popularity of Whistler is not just a function of the economy. Resort leaders in every sector have worked hard as a partnership to promote Whistler and to plan for the community's success.

And let's be honest — we can't be too successful no matter how much we might complain about the crowds in the village, on the mountains or at the parks. We are a resort doing what a resort does best.

But that does not mean that we can't take steps to address some of the issues that are becoming more and more problematic.

We all know housing is a big one — and with Whistler Blackcomb's Renaissance Plan on the books, which will mean even more year-round workers are needed, it must be addressed as soon as possible.

Traffic is another big issue for this town.

The side effects of the drive to get here from the Lower Mainland or beyond are definitely taking a toll on residents and visitors alike.

The Ministry of Transportation's latest figures show that the highest peak-hour volume in August 2014 saw 2,591 vehicles per hour between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish. From Squamish to Whistler that number was 1,722.

It's likely 2015's stats, when we get them, will be even higher.

Getting to Whistler from Vancouver — a drive that can generally be accomplished in two hours — took most people over three on Canada Day (July 1).

It's not just the ridiculous funnelling of vehicles into one lane as you enter Whistler at Function that is a problem. There are hot spots all along the drive.

Another one falls at Britannia Beach where the light at Copper Road can stall traffic so that it is at a near standstill all the way to the Sea to Sky Gondola — not the experience our corridor partners want for their attractions either.

The traffic report completed by the four-season Garibaldi at Squamish resort as part of its application process to the province stated that the B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation was planning on addressing the situation at Britannia (If this project goes ahead it is expected to add 12 to 17 per cent to daily traffic overall and 15 to 25 per cent at peak hours).

And let's not forget that the Squamish oceanfront is heading for development too. There is no doubt that will also add significantly to traffic congestion on the Sea to Sky Highway.

At what point will visitors thinking about a weekend trip, or day trip, to Whistler decide to stay home or go elsewhere because they don't want to spend hours in the car getting here?

And what is the tipping point for destination visitors adding up the hours by plane and car for their holiday?

Of course it is not just traffic jams either — there are the significant delays caused by vehicle accidents all year round on the Sea to Sky Highway.

Though the $600 million upgrade done ahead of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games improved safety tremendously, speed, distracted driving, road conditions and drivers unfamiliar with the highway all combine several times a year with fatal consequences.

The province and the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) are partnering on a traffic study (the muni has budgeted $50,000 for this), which will quantify what we already know. What is needed is not more studies but some action.

The road into Whistler from Function needs to have the alternating lane put back in.

Also, how about accommodation providers staggering their check-in/check-out times? That way, people coming up might not swarm up the highway to get here for 3 p.m. and then en masse leave the resort at 11 a.m.

Let's not wait to address some of these issues any longer.


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