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Whistler has stats to make case for better highway protocol

Almost 400 incidents on Sea to Sky in five-year period result in unplanned closures

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The provincial government needs to overhaul the way it handles unplanned road closures on the Sea to Sky Highway, according to two traffic consultants studying the issue for Whistler.

Their recommendations flow from a recent study showing that in a five-year period, from April 2011 to April 2016, the Sea to Sky Highway had 699 hours of unplanned road closures, or 140 hours per year, and 10 per cent of those were full road closures.

"In our opinion, the protocol for unplanned road closures, is badly out of date," said Gary Vlieg, project manager with Creative Transportation Solutions, in a presentation to council at the June 20 Committee of the Whole meeting.

Among other things, the study found that there were 396 unique incidents along the corridor from Horseshoe Bay to Function Junction in that time period. There were six fatalities.

The unplanned road closures were more frequent between the fall and the winter months.

In terms of the numbers, the incidents were spread throughout the corridor. However, there were four locations that resulted in longer duration closures, defined as longer than 1.5 hours. They were: between Lions Bay and Brunswick Beach; in the vicinity of Porteau Cove; in the vicinity of Britannia Beach; and north of Garibaldi at the south end of Daisy Lake.

In just under 80 per cent of the unplanned closures there were still two or more lanes open on the highway; in roughly 11 per cent there was only one lane open; and in 10 per cent there was a full closure for a period of time.

"The full closures were generally as a result of a fatality or a major incident," said Brent Dozzi, senior traffic engineer.

The average length of closure was 1.7 hours. The most common duration, or the median duration, was just under an hour.

In studying the issue, the consultants looked south of the border at American protocols.

"I think the most important thing there is that in the United States, federally, it's mandated for their interstate system, they have a 90-minute window in which to deal with incidents," said Vlieg. "We don't have such a metric in any of our protocols on our side of the border."

The most common barrier for timeliness in dealing with issues along the corridor, he added, is the proximity of resources — collision analysts and coroners.

"In other words, locating the resources that need to deal with incidents at a better location would definitely speed up how quickly we can clear the incidents," he added.

Complicating the issue further on the Sea to Sky Highway is that there are different requirements for the highway operators.

Miller Capilano, which maintains and operates the highway from Horseshoe Bay to Function, has different requirements than Mainroad, which maintains from Function Junction north.

"They're very distinct and they have very different sets of requirements in terms of what they're required to do along the corridor," said Dozzi.

"That's an important distinction to make."

If response times can be improved, the impact of those closures will be reduced.

"We know that unplanned road closures have a negative economic impact... in terms of day-to-day spending," he added. "But we also know that there's a cost that's associated with delay as well.

"(The highway's) reliability and safety is paramount in ensuring the ongoing viability and livability of the communities along the corridor."

Some of the recommendations included in the report are:

• establish performance measures similar to other jurisdictions, i.e. at least one lane open within 90 minutes;

• locate specialized services on the North Shore or the Sea to Sky corridor;

• focus highway patrols on those areas that have a higher frequency of long duration of unplanned road closures.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden highlighted several parts of the report, specifically how the benefits of investing in some of recommendations would outweigh their costs.

She added: "We going have to hear what TAG (Whistler's Transportation Advisory Group) has to say about the recommendations and then map out a plan for how we approach the government for how we convince them to make some of the improvements that have been suggested in that report."

For the full report, visit whistler.ca.

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