Highway speed limits to increase in the Sea to Sky

Some worry the higher speeds could mean more dangerous conditions for wildlife

After a province-wide Rural Highway Safety and Speed Review, the Ministry of Transportation (MOT) has announced that changes to highway speed limits are on the way, including in the Sea to Sky corridor.

“Safety on our highways is our number one priority, and is the foundation for every decision that has resulted from this review,” said transportation and infrastructure minister Todd Stone in a news release. “The actions we’re taking were the subject of a thorough technical review by our engineers, and the ministry is committed to ongoing monitoring and evaluation of speed limits and other highway safety measures.”

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The four key aspects of road safety assessed included speed limits, requirements for winter tires, keeping right except to pass and wildlife collisions. On the Sea to Sky Highway, the speed limit increases include: 80 km/h to 90km/h from Eagle Ridge interchange, Horseshoe Bay to Stawamus River Bridge near Squamish, 80 km/h and 90 km/h to 100km/h from north of Depot Road, Squamish to Function Junction, 80 km/h to 90km/h from Whistler Heliport Road to Pemberton Boundary and 90 km/h to 100km/h from the Pavillion Lime Plant east of Lillooet to the Highway 97 junction.

To address wildlife collisions, the MOT said it will be installing gateway signs at highway corridors with higher instances of wildlife collisions and increase the use of flashing LED warning signs in high crash locations, as well as increasing fencing in those locations. No specific additions were announced for Highway 99, but the MOT will be piloting two wildlife detection systems on Highway 3 between Cranbrook and Sparwood.

The Whistler-based Get Bear Smart Society was asked to provide input as part of the review and has voiced concerns over the speed increase. “There’s more cars on (Highway 99) all the time and they’re going faster and faster all the time, probably regardless of the speed limits,” said Sylvia Dolson, executive director of the society. “Based on the information we have received, there has been an increase in bear mortality since the highway was improved before the Olympics.

There’s more distance to cross and the medians are difficult to (climb over), so we’re losing more cubs than we have in the past.”

Measuring wildlife mortality on highways is a challenging task, given that not all collisions are reported to conservation officers. Wounded animals may also run from the highway and later die out of sight of motorists, making it difficult to collect accurate statistics.

The Get Bear Smart Society campaigned for wildlife crossings — such as those seen on Highway 1 in Banff — as part of the Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project, but no such infrastructure was prioritized during the pre-Olympic upgrade. “We do have signage on the Sea to Sky, but not as much as we have asked for,” said Dolson. “It’s difficult, and the wildlife pays for it.”

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