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Unexpected roadwork snarls highway traffic

Contractor says majority of remaining work will be done outside of peak times

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After dealing with slow-moving traffic leaving the resort this past weekend at the conclusion of Crankworx Whistler, it’s safe to say residents were probably looking forward to some smooth sailing along Highway 99 on Tuesday, Aug. 22.

They were in for quite the surprise.

Instead of the light early-morning traffic typical of a summer weekday, drivers had to contend with bumper-to-bumper traffic that at times sat at a complete standstill caused by road maintenance at not one but two sites along Highway 99.

“The fact that nobody even foresaw that having a north and south paving event would cause a problem — I mean, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a traffic management engineer to know that this was an idiotic idea,” resident Keith Auchinachie said.

The congestion caused major delays throughout the day, sparking outrage among Whistler’s always-vocal online community. Many bemoaned the lack of advance notice that would have allowed them to plan an alternate route along Alta Lake Road, while others complained of missing work or losing business.

Even the Whistler RCMP raised issue with the delays.

“It was a challenge and could’ve been a bigger challenge. Thankfully we didn’t get any emergency calls today,” said Cpl. Diane Blain.

In a late-night email Tuesday, Mainroad Group, the Surrey-based company contracted by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, apologized for the delays, saying that traffic volumes were higher than anticipated.

“Though daytime lane closures are permitted, we’ve learned that work that we were able to do during the day in the past is now not possible due to increasing daily traffic volumes throughout the Whistler corridor,” said GM Darren Ell, adding that all remaining work in Whistler will be completed during non-peak times.

In a follow-up interview, Ell explained why the paving work was done on opposite sides of the village, which led to further delays.

“The fastest way to do it is have the grinder go in and grind up that asphalt, move onto the next site and then the pavers come right behind him, and then he hops to the next site through the area,” he said. “Obviously, because the separation between the two zones was too great, it created more confusion than productivity.”

Much of the venom from the community was directed at the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), and Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden even took to Facebook to personally clarify some of the misinformation that had been making the rounds.

“People! This isn't us. Mainroad didn't have the courtesy of even informing us they were going to do this,” she wrote.

Contractors are only obligated to notify the ministry of any roadwork through DriveBC, Ell said. He did claim, however, that municipal operations staff was told of the work in advance, a point that was disputed by the RMOW.

“We’ll be talking to more of the (municipal) hall folks, operations staff, and probably doing more notification above and beyond DriveBC (in the future),” Ell added.

Tuesday wasn’t the first time Wilhelm-Morden has taken umbrage with the contractor. A recent Transportation Advisory Group study examining unexpected highway closures found that Mainroad’s work didn’t measure up to other contractors in the region.

“We’ve seen that in snow clearing last winter, for example: the highway was great until you got to Function Junction, which is where Mainroad takes over, and then we had terrible conditions on some days. So I do have complaints of the condition of performance of Mainroad,” she said, complaints she vowed to raise with B.C.’s transportation minister.

In response, Ell said the company has consistently met ministry standards.

“We do the work that the ministry expects us to do, and so far we’ve come out and we’ve met those expectations and have no issues with those expectations,” he said.

Ell did acknowledge Tuesday’s delays have taught the company some valuable lessons.

“We sincerely apologize to the people of Whistler that we caused these delays, and we’re not taking it lightly ourselves. We want to make changes; we’ve got to make changes to how we do business,” he added.

Mainroad will be in Pemberton on Thursday, with paving scheduled between 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Portage Road and into the Walkerville area. Single-lane alternating traffic will be in place during the work.

More work is planned for the corridor this month — stay up to date at www.drivebc.ca.

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