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A Killer Commute

Even after its upgrade, the road to Whistler won't be safe.

By Rafe Mair 11 Aug 2008 |

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee and is a spokesperson for Save Our Rivers.

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Sea-to-Sky: Bring back radar?

It was six o'clock on a drizzly February morning, and I was driving along the Sea-to-Sky highway to work. The stated speed limit was 90 and I was doing 60. I had a devil of a time seeing where I was going. When I reached Ansel Place perhaps 10 kilometres north of Horseshoe Bay, there was suddenly a pair of headlights coming towards me, I thought, in my lane.

I pulled to the right, the tires caught the soft shoulder, and by nothing short of a miracle my car missed a power pole taking out the guy wire instead, coming to rest against a mound of dirt.

I should have been killed.

Whether there was an oncoming car in my lane or I just thought there was, I don't know. What I do know is that most people who live along this killer highway have nightmare stories to tell.

Hurry up and wait

Fatal accidents seemed like a weekly occurrence, until heavy highway construction forced traffic to slow down.

We once had the highway closed for 11 hours -- imagine being a pregnant woman, or a mom with small kids at home or just needing to perform a bodily function. The worst I had was eight and a half hours, the length of time it takes to fly from YVR to London.

Then came the big slide near Porteau Cove on July 29, cutting the Lower Mainland's cord to Whistler and beyond until crews managed to clear the way again four days later.

Interesting that no one held the contractor, Peter Kiewit, to account. Despite the work the contractor had done, drilling and driving in bolts, this was seen as an act of God. And no one seemed to care that the rocks and heavily polluted asphalt were simply pushed into the ocean. Kiewit paid $50,000 of the cleanup and we paid the rest -- a sum that will never be disclosed -- you can bet on that.

Safer road ahead?

We are told that when the construction is finished, the dangers along the improved road will be much diminished. Maybe. But there are still going to be a hell of a lot of serious accidents even with concrete dividers between the left and right halves and most will be two-laned.

There are several reasons for my gloominess. For starters, this highway development has been a platinum opportunity for friends of the premier -- the developers.

New communities are rising like mushrooms after a rainstorm all the way between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish, meaning that Kevin Costner was right in "Field Dreams" when he said "build it and they will come." (Actually I think it was James Earl Jones but there's a limit to how much I'll research, though, come to think of it, it was a helluva movie).

By the time the Winter Olympics roll around, I daresay the highway will be as busy as it ever was. Busy highways = accidents.

Sea-to-Sky maniacs

But it's not just the traffic, and here I'm going to spit it out -- drivers on the way to and from Whistler are mad! Not only do they badly over drive the road, they weave in and out of traffic as if it were a Formula One racetrack, not a highway. It's unbelievable how these jerks drive! Not all of them, you say? I suppose not but enough of them to make it look that way.

There are two steps that can be taken, either one of which will make the highway much, much safer to drive.

The less expensive way is to bring back photo radar. Yes, I know how unpopular it was and I shared the anger at the way police forces abused this tool. I don't recommend a full return but rather an amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act allowing cabinet to designate a highway "dangerous," permitting the police to use photo radar.

On this highway one cannot complain about an unfair "speed trap" -- it's a dangerous highway from start to finish. If everyone knew that they would almost certainly get a $150 ticket both coming and going, you would see some results.

The alternative is to have rotating police radar traps, but the problem there is that it's costly and there are only certain places on any highway where these traps can be used. The speeders know this and act accordingly.

Another alternative is use of a helicopter but, again, this is expensive.

Radar rights

I must admit as one who is jealous of his civil rights, I hate the idea of radar. The citizen must accept the fact that radar accurately depicted the speed alleged and you can't cross-examine a machine.

I take solace, however, from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 1, which reads "The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society [my emphasis].

Surely it can be demonstrated that allowing photo radar after cabinet has looked at the evidence and decided in its favour is justifiable in a free and democratic society.

As long as people are allowed, virtually unhindered, to drive at excessive speeds, the Sea-to-Sky highway will be a killer.

Ask anyone who drives it several times a day.

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