By Vivian Moreau
Poorly equipped vehicles in a Jan. 5 snowstorm that dumped half a metre of snow in one day are being blamed for Sea to Sky accidents and gridlock that made for slow going between Squamish and Whistler.
Whistler resident Karl Ricker was doubly jinxed after leaving his home at 8:30 a.m. on Friday only to be halted in Cheakamus Canyon because of an accident at the Culliton Creek Bridge. A south-bound semi trailer carrying produce lost control, flipped and then burst into flames, bringing traffic to a standstill as well as slicing a temporary Telus fibre optic cable carrying Internet service to Whistler. Returning from West Vancouver that same day Ricker again hit traffic troubles when an accident in Nordic backed late evening traffic up for kilometres.
Ricker, who drives a Subaru Forester on four snow tires, blames poor road maintenance and motorists travelling without snow tires for traffic woes.
“They (highway maintenance contractors) have some harebrained idea of using salt instead of sand,” he said. “They have to use sand and fine grit on this highway.”
The retired geologist said after proceeding through the Culliton Creek Bridge accident vehicles had a difficult time ascending the next hill because highway maintenance crews “had not put one grain of sand or grit on the road to prevent accidents — it was like driving on ball bearings.”
Miller Capilano Maintenance Corporation is responsible for keeping roads clear from Function Junction to Horseshoe Bay. Operations manager Larry Paradis said the company’s 12 trucks most certainly do sand the highway. Paradis said at the front end of storms salt is put down “like a brine sandwich so it cleans up better and you don’t get as much snow pack.” If storm conditions continue sand is spread. But Paradis believes the problem is with motorists ill equipped to handle Highway 99 winter conditions, who then block traffic.
“We’ve had to work with the police in holding traffic back and then going up the wrong side of the road and coming in ahead of the traffic.”
Cpl. Dave Ritchie of Squamish RCMP said a local advisory committee of community leaders has been lobbying the provincial Ministry of Transportation to have Highway 99 designated a mountain or winter highway, making snow tires or chains mandatory in winter conditions.
“We’ve been asking for years to have the highway designated as a winter highway to get better compliance on tires,” he said.
But the Ministry of Transportation insists that category of designation does not exist.