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Sea to Sky Hwy expansion 'opened the floodgates' for Squamish development: former mayor

Last Updated Feb 14, 2020 at 11:42 am PST

FILE - Sea to Sky Highway northbound around 20 km south of Whistler. (Source: Google Maps)

Since the Sea to Sky Highway was improved ahead of the 2010 Olympics, a lot has changed in Squamish

Business community welcomed the project but some locals were concerned

The improved road has accelerated development in the district, former mayor says

SQUAMISH (NEWS 1130) – The expansion of the Sea to Sky Highway through Squamish was a “staggering concept” when it was first proposed ahead of the Olympics in 2010, but it has since permanently changed the community, says the former mayor.

Patricia Heintzman, who was a District of Squamish councillor for nine years before serving as mayor from 2014 to 2018, said the road through town was very different before it was doubled.

“It was a very windy, narrow highway with cliffs above and below the highway,” she said.

When it became clear transportation needed to improve between Metro Vancouver and Whistler ahead of the Games, Heintzman recalls a number of options were discussed.

A new train line and ferry route were considered, but ultimately the province decided to invest $600 million in the Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project, which saw the two lanes and a barricade added to the two lane road through Squamish.

Heintzman said the proposal was welcomed by the business community, but some locals accustomed to crossing the road during gaps in traffic worried it would cut their town in two.

“With a four-lane highway with a barrier in between the north- and southbound lanes, all of a sudden the community was bisected significantly,” she recalled. “So there was certainly some trepidation about that element.”

A pedestrian bridge over the highway was built as part of the project, relieving some safety concerns, Heintzman said.

Since then, she said, the highway has “opened the floodgates” for development in the district as people have increasingly seen Squamish as a living option while still working in Metro Vancouver.

While the Olympic games put a “beautiful spotlight” on her community, Heintzman said it was the highway expansion that has had the biggest impact.

But the expansion might not have been the best choice, she said.

Heintzman said a train line would have been much more expensive upfront, but might have been the more environmentally friendly option.

“I think from the long-term sustainability, the rail would have been a much more visionary option, but I’m looking at that in hindsight as well,” she said.

In 2011, the ministry of transportation told NEWS 1130 that vehicle crashes had dropped nearly 60 per cent since the previous year, citing the then-recent highway improvements as the reason.