Sea to Sky Highway still deadly despite Olympic upgrade
A deadly crash along the Sea to Sky Highway earlier this month has renewed calls for change in a region quickly transforming from a tourist destination to a Metro Vancouver suburb.
The Sea to Sky used to be called the "killer highway" before it got a $600-million in upgrades ahead of the 2010 of the Olympics. The mayor of Squamish, however, says more still needs to be done.
"Every time something happens on the highway … Our entire community immediately goes—do I know someone? Who’s travelling today? It’s just become this constant in our lives," said Patricia Heintzman.
The massive upgrade was among the most expensive and expansive highway overhauls in provincial history. It involved smoothing curves, extending sightlines and improving intersection safety.
But nearly a decade after taxpayers forked over more than half a billion dollars for the Olympic-sized improvement, there are still an average of 72 serious collisions per year. More than two of them are usually fatal.
More than 19,000 commuters a day now navigate the roadway—a 24 per cent increase in traffic—since 2009.
Fatal crash prompts calls for improved safety
The 2018 death toll on the highway is already climbing.
Two people were killed and six others were injured in a head-on collision north of Squamish on Jan. 2. The tragedy gave new momentum to growing calls for more concrete barriers in high volume areas.
"There's no doubt to say that having the cement barricade has prevented head on collisions," said Heintzman. "They're proven to work."
Brian Loverin founded the Sea to Sky Road Conditions Facebook group to keep residents updated on inclement conditions on the highway. He agrees that barriers or even a stop light near the scene of the crash would have been a good idea.
"The lines … It’s hard to be able to see, travelling from Squamish up to Whistler," he said.
The rest, he says, is up to drivers.
"You’ll see cars in the ditch, doing turns that aren’t prepared for the highways," he said. "Just follow the speed limit. Don’t follow the person in front of you."
The province has promised action and a spokesperson from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure told CTV it will review police reports about the recent collision and address safety improvements. Those could include adding a median barrier.
A corridor serving a community
The mountain highway has defined the Sea to Sky region for decades. This most recent tragedy, some say, should serve as a driving force for change—and potentially funding from the province.
"People coming into a mountain—a twisty, turny, coastal highway—often don’t know how to drive it," said Heintzman "We need to do whatever we can to make it as safe as possible."
Heintzman also added maintenance isn't consistent along the highway, and hopes for help from provincial and federal infrastructure dollars.
While the highway has long served as a route for tourists enjoying B.C.'s mountains, more and more residents are using it to travel to and from work in Metro Vancouver, located less than an hour away.
"Squamish has become a commuter town," said resident Trisha Loscombe. "It’s 40 minutes to the city."
She says she moved to Squamish for the outdoor lifestyle. While she's familiar with the highway's twists and turns, she's worried other drivers with licence plates from Alberta, California and Washington may not be.
"There’s a lot of portions of the highway where there’s no concrete barrier," she said. "That’s really dangerous, especially when you see all the tourists coming up."
The Olympic upgrade has reduced the number of serious collisions on the highway by roughly 23 per cent, but critics insist the human toll from crashes on the highway is still far too high.
"There are a lot of tragedies that happen on this highway," said Lovering. "And you’re always concerned if it’s somebody you know, or one of your family members."
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Sarah MacDonald.