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Old Posted Feb 10, 2008, 12:56 AM
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Sea-to-Sky Hwy Project | Completed

an interesting read

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From sea to sky, a true superhighway

It almost cost B.C. its bid for the 2010 Winter Games. But an incredible engineering feat is turning a deadly strip of road into a safe - and spectacular - route to travel through the mountains

MARK HUME

VANCOUVER -- Swerving his truck between orange pylons to pull onto a narrow shoulder, engineer Rod Vanwerkhoven glances up a dizzying wall of black rock that looms above the Sea to Sky Highway.

"In a lot of places the cliffs are so steep you can't even work on the rock face. It's like a 300-foot vertical right there," he says, before pulling back onto the hazardous road that once threatened to cost British Columbia its chance to host the 2010 Olympic Games.

It didn't, but only because the province undertook a massive, 100-kilometre, $775-million engineering feat.

A 600- to 800-strong team is moving 2.4 million cubic meters of fill, in one stretch alone blasting away enough rock to fill 500 railway boxcars. They are laying pavement over what was once thin air and, in the process, turning an unsafe mountain road - which has about 400 accidents annually, and has had 40 deaths in five years - into a modern highway where traffic will speed up and the accident rate will drop.

Long regarded as one of the most dangerous and beautiful drives in B.C., Highway 99 was considered such a scenic selling point that Vancouver and Whistler initially pitched its Olympic bid as "the Sea to Sky Games," highlighting the dramatic natural setting.

But when International Olympic Committee members got a look at the narrow, winding road, which clings to the precipitous terrain of the Coast Mountains like a frightened snake, they questioned whether Games venues should really be separated by such a slow, twisting route.

In 2002, Vancouver Organizing Committee chairman Jack Poole identified the need for a better highway as a possible deal-breaker in the bid and urged the government "to tell us what the solution will be."

In 2003, shortly before the Games were awarded, IOC evaluation team chairman Gerhard Heiberg set off alarms when he returned from a drive to Whistler to declare it was "too far from Vancouver" to host venues. "You need to shorten the [driving] time," he said.

Fearing the bid might fail, the B.C. government responded by promising an enormous improvement project that had been talked about for years. Since it began in 2004, the project has left engineers like Mr. Vanwerkhoven with some daunting challenges.

"We can't even imagine how to do blasting there," he said of the cliff that vanishes into clouds above the highway on a stretch between Lions Bay and Porteau Cove. On the other side of the road the slope plunges down into Howe Sound, where a CN Rail line squeezes along the waterfront, limiting the space in which crews have to work.

If you are an engineer whose job it is to make this busy highway wider, safer and faster in time for the Games, this is what it means to be caught between a rock and a hard place: On one side is a solid mountain wall; on the other, a sudden drop to the sea.

But Mr. Vanwerkhoven, who is with the design-build contractor Peter Kiewit Sons Co., doesn't hesitate when asked where the road goes from here.

"We build out there," he said, gesturing to the ocean side where a work crew is constructing what is technically known as a mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) retaining wall.

In some places, crews have been able to cut away rock on the upslope of the highway. But that isn't an option when the cliffs above are so high that millions of tonnes of rock would have to be removed. Here, the only solution is to go out over the bank, where a crew is building an MSE wall with layers of crushed rock, grids of heavy wire and hundreds of anchors buried deep in bedrock.

About 60 MSE walls are being built on the 16-kilometre section Mr. Vanwerkhoven is working on, which will allow traffic to eventually travel on pavement where there was once nothing but air.

And the entire project must be undertaken without closing the existing highway because there is no alternative route to Whistler, other than a five-hour detour through Lillooet.

Challenged with building a new highway without choking off tourist or commuter traffic, the contractors came up with a strategy that forbids road closings of more than 20 minutes at a time. Even when crews blast away part of a cliff face, strewing rock debris on the road, they must work within that window - setting and detonating charges and cleaning the pavement of rubble in the time it takes to have a coffee break.

To keep on schedule and finish the entire project by the fall of 2009, the crews have maximized night work, when traffic is at a minimum. And where possible, they confine their efforts to narrow, linear strips, alongside of or sometimes between lanes, so that some 14,000 vehicles a day can pass with minimal delay.

Space is so tight on this project that construction material, including mountains of gravel produced on site by portable rock crushers, is stored on the road shoulder because there is simply nowhere else to stockpile it.

Despite the daunting logistical problems, the Sea to Sky improvement project is now more than half finished. Three major sections will be done by this fall and the final four sections, right up to Function Junction in Whistler, will be done by summer or fall of 2009.

"On budget, and ahead of schedule," said Rob Ahola, a construction director and a private consultant working for the Ministry of Transportation. He shakes his head as if he doesn't quite believe it himself.

"It's going remarkably smoothly."

SAFETY FIRST

The Sea to Sky project was on the B.C. government's books for years, but it took the Olympics to serve as a catalyst.

Even without the Games, Mr. Ahola said, the upgrade would have been needed because of rapid growth in communities such as Lions Bay, Squamish, Furry Creek and Whistler. The population along the corridor is expected to almost double by 2025. Instead of 14,000 vehicles a day, there will soon be 22,000.

As he drives the Sea to Sky Highway, passing crews that are busy cutting through solid rock abutments or building walls on the edge of such sheer drops that workers must be tethered like mountain climbers, Mr. Ahola sees beyond the temporary chaos.

"It's hard to visualize what the future looks like, but I can see it," he said, stopping his car near the Eagle Ridge cutoff, a controversial section in West Vancouver that for a time was blocked by environmental protesters.

On the slope above, drills are sheering away rock and excavators are loading trucks that can carry about 34 tonnes at a time.

The $130-million section will cut a huge corner off the old highway, completed in 1957, and separate through traffic from the busy Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal.

"It will sweep down here," said Mr. Ahola, gesturing to where the foundations for an interchange are in place for ramps that will merge with the Upper Levels Highway.

Protesters, opposed to damage to the wetlands and forest on Eagle Ridge Bluffs, blocked work here for months until they were kept away by a court injunction.

Mostly this highway project has been welcomed by communities, however, not because it will shorten the 90-minute drive from Vancouver to Whistler by 15 minutes, but because it promises to cut the terrible accident rate by 30 per cent.

The sharp horizontal curves, narrow shoulders and limited passing opportunities gave the old Sea to Sky Highway an accident density rate (collisions per kilometre per year) three times the provincial average. A 1999 study found 2,155 crashes during a five-year period, mostly in 20 hazardous locations including the appropriately named Snake Hill.

The study stated that frustrated drivers were engaging in risky behaviour because "passing is virtually impossible and platooning [where vehicles bunch together] becomes intense when slower vehicles or other interruptions are encountered."

A government safety committee that looked at the highway in 1997 concluded that unsafe speed and dangerous driving accounted for 40 per cent of accidents.

"Many drivers are following too closely, cutting people off, crossing a double solid line, and speeding," stated the study, which concluded bad highway design encouraged bad driving.

Mr. Ahola said the dangerous curves and bottlenecks are being replaced by a highway with improved sightlines, gentler curves and wider shoulders. Although there will still be some two-lane sections, the new highway will be mostly three or four lanes, with lots of passing opportunities to eliminate vehicle platooning, and an 80 km/h speed limit will replace the mostly 50 and 60 km/h zones that now exist.

The project is utilizing context-sensitive design, or CSD, to encourage better driving. The approach analyzes the way drivers process the information streaming at them on road geometry, other vehicles and traffic-control devices as they make decisions on which lane to be in, how fast to go, how close to follow or how to approach a curve.

"Rather than accommodate driver behaviour, which is what most highway design does in North America, CSD influences driver behaviour with visual and auditory cues," states a Ministry of Transportation newsletter.

Mr. Ahola said the "behavioural cues" include wider painted lines, rumble strips that focus the attention of drivers, and design features, including special signs, that will make it clear to drivers when they are approaching communities or intersections.

The use of an anti-skid surface, improved lighting, roadside reflectors, highly reflective paint markings and median barriers will also be used to promote safer driving and cut down on accidents.

Narrow bridges will be widened or replaced (about 43 new or improved bridges are being built), and in the process they will be upgraded to withstand 200-year seismic or flood events.

"There will also be better rock-fall protection," said Mr. Ahola as he drove past a cliff face. "Now, when rock falls off it will land in the ditch, beside the road, not on it."

After weaving through construction zones, Mr. Ahola smoothly accelerates on a new, four-lane section. Traffic spreads out and for a moment the focus isn't on the next harrowing corner, but the view of Howe Sound and the snow-capped mountains.

But as he slows down for a two-lane section, a dump truck suddenly roars past, passing on a double line. Mr. Ahola raises his eyebrows in surprise. For some, it is obvious this highway can't be built fast enough.

THE FAST LANE TO WHISTLER

In preparation for the 2010 Olympics, the meandering 100-kilometre thoroughfare between West Vancouver and Whistler is undergoing a $600-million overhaul aimed at creating a safer, straighter highway with improved sightlines, more passing lanes and wider shoulders. The B.C. government hopes the improvements will reduce travel time between the two cities by 15 minutes and mean fewer road closings and fatalities - the highway currently has about 300 accidents a year.

A. RETAINING WALLS

Mechanically stabilized earth retaining walls create an artificial cliff face that allows builders to extend the highway toward Howe Sound by an extra two lanes.

Rebar anchors concrete slabs to the cliff face.

Soil and gravel backfill is trucked in and compacted.

The wall is brought up in stages to the height of the current highway.

B. HALF BRIDGES

When the cliff is too high or narrow to build retaining walls, half bridges can support two Vancouver-bound lanes.

C. SAFER CURVES

The cliff face is being dynamited to accommodate gentler curves, particularly near Lions Bay. Improved sightlines and more consistent driving speeds should reduce accidents.

FOUR AREAS OF CONSTRUCTION

1. MURRIN PARK TO SQUAMISH

Upgrades will create a four-lane divided highway with median barriers throughout. In Squamish, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and improved lighting will be added.

2. LIONS BAY TO MURRIN PARK

Three- and four-lane passing sections are being added. Four-lane sections will have a median barrier.

3. SQUAMISH TO WHISTLER

This section will be widened to three lanes throughout, including improved two-lane sections and alternating passing lanes in each direction.

4. WEST VANCOUVER TO LIONS BAY

Four-lane sections with median barriers are being added, curves straightened, sightlines improved and shoulders widened.

BY THE NUMBERS

$775-million: 2006 cost estimate for the Highway 99 improvement project.

100-kilometre

-long project will add 219 retaining walls, 74 km of rumble strips and 68 km of wider shoulders.

46: bridges are being improved or built, with new structures made high enough to withstand a 200-year flood event.

5,707: crashes, 1991 to 1999.

30: per cent reduction in accidents expected.

15: minutes less travel time between West Vancouver and Whistler.

450,000: tonnes of asphalt ill be used.

2.4 million: cubic metres of fill will be moved during construction, enough to fill 500 railway boxcars.

600 to 800: people to work on the project.

80,000: cubic metres of rock was blasted and drilled from the road right-of-way at Darrell Bay.

SOURCES: THE B.C. MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION, PETER KIEWIT SONS CO., AGGREGATES & ROADBUILDING MAGAZINE AND THE B.C. AUDITOR-GENERAL.



http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servl...Story/National

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Old Posted Feb 10, 2008, 6:53 AM
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While the upgrades may make it a respectable highway in some parts, it's nothing compared to what I have seen in Austria for example. Superhighway is something that it is not for sure.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 10, 2008, 8:54 PM
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"VANCOUVER -- Swerving his truck between orange pylons to pull onto a narrow shoulder, engineer Rod Vanwerkhoven glances up a dizzying wall of black rock that looms above the Sea to Sky Highway."

Wow, small world. This guy's son is in Civil Eng. at UBC with me.
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 3:52 AM
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Originally Posted by zivan56 View Post
While the upgrades may make it a respectable highway in some parts, it's nothing compared to what I have seen in Austria for example. Superhighway is something that it is not for sure.
About ten years ago I took relatives from Europe on a trip through the Rockies to Banff and a relative asked why we weren't taking the main highway. When I told him this was the main highway I could tell by the look on his face that he was taken aback how this could be Canada's major east-west highway. Our highways are an embarrassment to our country, especially to visitors from other countries who think we are a modern, developed nation.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 4:21 AM
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^ Austria and Germany can thank Hitler for their monster highways. He built those autobahn's so he could get his troops and tanks out of the country with ease. With Austria, they actually used highways as runways as well. The population density also makes a freeway network through mountains feasible.

And besides, people usually fly in Canada to get from province to province.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 6:17 AM
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Are they doing any upgrades to the 2-lane sections that are going to remain on the highway?
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 6:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Lead View Post
Are they doing any upgrades to the 2-lane sections that are going to remain on the highway?
Road curves/turns could be straightened out for greater sightlines, retaining walls, concrete divider between lanes, widened lanes, etc.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 7:15 AM
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Originally Posted by mr.x2 View Post
^ Austria and Germany can thank Hitler for their monster highways. He built those autobahn's so he could get his troops and tanks out of the country with ease. With Austria, they actually used highways as runways as well. The population density also makes a freeway network through mountains feasible.

And besides, people usually fly in Canada to get from province to province.
Where did you get that idea? If you follow that logic, then the highways to Alaska must be superior because they were completed in a wartime setting. The roads built in the 30's in Germany were around 2 lanes max, and were not meant for high speed. There are some highways that go through Germany's mostly flat terrain that were built at that time. However, sections I am referring to were built in the 60/70/80's and in Austria. In fact, the viaducts that run through the mountainous terrain comparable to the rockies are relatively new, since the older roads just clung to mountainsides. So weaseling out by arguing with that is not going to work.
Flying wont work, as the only other way there is by train.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 8:16 AM
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Canada is too large with too small of a population. Comparing our national highway to those of Germany and Austria is a little unfair. Having said that, priority should be put on our main sections that cater to the tourists. We pimp the hell out of those mountains abroad, so we should keep the roadway as safe and spectacular as possible.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 2:30 PM
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Germany for example has 70 times our population density... so as has been mentioned, comparing our abilities to build economically feasible stretches of highway is pretty silly.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 3:34 PM
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You do it one road at a time

Isn't that the larger point behind the article? An older, archaic, and inherently dangerous (stats bare it out painfully) road in a growing region is getting a long overdue upgrade - not only the road but also the roadbed it sits upon.

It is a good step forward, same as the large tunnel announcement recently on the National Highway (name escapes me at the moment).

For a country with low population density and huge chunks of countryside, Canada can only achieve the feats of Europe one step at a time. Look at a globe for a minute, and the challenge should be clear. The Canadian Rockies alone would swallow most of Europe - if not all - if you compare the size of the region. Then look on-line for a few population stats.

I just think it is a false analogy to compare Canada's highways to Switzerland or even Germany. It is just not a similar situation at all.

The important thing is Canada is making these improvements. When you're reshaping and expanding road-paths, you are making changes that will benefit transportation for decades - or even hundreds of years to come.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 6:59 PM
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Canada is too large with too small of a population. Comparing our national highway to those of Germany and Austria is a little unfair.
Well the article is doing just that by calling it a "superhighway." I guess a dirt road in the Gobi desert is a "superhighway" as well?
Canada has a superhighway, it's called the 401...but the sea to sky doesn't even come close.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 8:44 PM
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While the upgrades may make it a respectable highway in some parts, it's nothing compared to what I have seen in Austria for example. Superhighway is something that it is not for sure.
The Chillon Viaduct in Switzerland one comes to mind (completed 1969):

http://en.structurae.de/structures/d...fm?ID=s0002286



Or Interstate H3 in Hawaii (Oahu) (from http://www.hawaiihighways.com/photos...state-H3.htm):

     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 10:16 PM
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Or perhaps the Autostrada along the Italian Riviera heading westward to Monaco and Nice, France. One of the world's greatest drives in terms of viaducts, tunnels, and bridges along with the Mediterranean panorama.

BC Mot originally was looking at turning the Sea to Sky into a 4-lane freeway standard inclusive of viaducts and some tunneling with interchanges at Porteau Cove, Britannia Beach, and Shannon Falls and a 90 km/hr design standard. Preliminary cost estimate $1.670 billion in 2001 dollars.

They decided to foregoe the gold-plating for now and we ended up with a $670 million highway upgrade instead, albeit to modern standards, a vast improvement over mostly 1957 standards that we have been used to over the years.

http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/seatosky/rep...provements.pdf
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 10:40 PM
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Innsbruck to Bolzano is a fantastic drive, infact I ended up getting of the highway and taking the free local road below and only then could I really see how impressive the main highway was. Basicly it was one long viaduct with tunnels slicing through any hill or mountain in the way all the way to Bolzano...then the highway turned to shit like all the other Italian highways. Also Udine to Villach(italy to Autria) has some huge tunnels, also impressive. Never made it out to Switzerland but im sure there are even more impressive stretches of highway. But yeah like everyone said we dont have the population density to build and suport highways like that out here, and the sea to sky highway is no superhighway.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 11:30 PM
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Well, the mountain highways into Torino's venues weren't all the great either....they had one highway that was just like the Sea-to-Sky, two-lane roads. Before the Games, there were also protesters against highway expansion.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 12, 2008, 12:48 AM
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Thanks for the link.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 12, 2008, 8:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Stingray2004 View Post
Or perhaps the Autostrada along the Italian Riviera heading westward to Monaco and Nice, France. One of the world's greatest drives in terms of viaducts, tunnels, and bridges along with the Mediterranean panorama.

BC Mot originally was looking at turning the Sea to Sky into a 4-lane freeway standard inclusive of viaducts and some tunneling with interchanges at Porteau Cove, Britannia Beach, and Shannon Falls and a 90 km/hr design standard. Preliminary cost estimate $1.670 billion in 2001 dollars.

They decided to foregoe the gold-plating for now and we ended up with a $670 million highway upgrade instead, albeit to modern standards, a vast improvement over mostly 1957 standards that we have been used to over the years.

http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/seatosky/rep...provements.pdf
True but I really wish they would have 4-laned the whole thing. I can't believe they didn't actually.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 12, 2008, 6:55 PM
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Originally Posted by zivan56 View Post
Where did you get that idea? If you follow that logic, then the highways to Alaska must be superior because they were completed in a wartime setting. The roads built in the 30's in Germany were around 2 lanes max, and were not meant for high speed. There are some highways that go through Germany's mostly flat terrain that were built at that time.
That's not true, all Autobahn's built in the Third Reich were 4 lanes and built for maximum speed. They were built to such a high quality that many in former East Germany at time of reunification still had their original pavement. If you look at many Autobahns you can see that the bridges are the original 1930's constructions.
     
     
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Old Posted Feb 13, 2008, 12:35 AM
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^^ through mountainous terrain? Nope.
     
     
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