Mayor Greg Gardner is calling the recently released details of VANOC’s 2010 transportation plan disappointing, adding it undermines his work as the founding co-chair of the Squamish Chamber of Commerce’s Olympic Bid Task Force.
“I am disappointed that visitors who are not staying in Squamish will not have the opportunity to experience our community, which was one of the main reasons I got involved in the Olympic initiative in 2001,” Gardner said.
Departure hubs for the 2010 Olympic express route will be located in Vancouver and ticketholders will be encouraged to park in the city. Despite earlier assertions that there would be a local bus hub for Olympic audiences, VANOC stated last week that the 350 buses transporting hordes of ticket holders will not stop in town. Other bid book items were also neglected, said Gardner.
“My understanding was that a passenger ferry service would be running during the Olympic timeframe with the northern terminus in Squamish,” he said.
As VANOC completes the last 20 per cent of the plan, expected later this summer, Gardner said he’s now looking beyond stopping visitors, and will be seeking more details on behalf of residents simply trying to make a living.
“We need to make sure our residents can get to and from Whistler and Squamish. I am talking about for business purposes, because they need to get goods back and forth,” Gardner said.
Gardner said no reference was made to closing the highway to residents during peak Olympic hours, but he wants confirmation.”We are also seeking clarification on how people in Squamish will be able to get to the Whistler Olympic Park,” Gardner said. “We will have lots of visitors in the community either way, but resident needs come first.”
Other details of the transportation plan include a commitment that traffic flow between Vancouver and Squamish will function normally. Coun. Patricia Heintzman said getting to Vancouver will remain relatively easy.
“That was OK news,” Heintzman said. “I think they still need to figure out the details between Squamish and Whistler. That’s where the last 20 per cent of the plan needs to focus.”
Heintzman said VANOC does not seem to grasp of the needs of Squamish residents. She said VANOC needs to come up with affordable options.
“I don’t think anyone is deluded enough to think there won’t be some change, but commuters to Whistler need affordable options,” Heintzman said. “A lot of people carpool together so the bus needs to match that.”
Olympic spectators will not have the option of stopping in Squamish to check out attractions and festivals such as Wild at Art but Michelle Neilson, festival board member, said she’s “not worried.”
“To be honest, I am not worried. There will be some people staying in Squamish. We are a town of 16,000 and can only handle so many people anyway,” Neilson said.
Being bombarded by thousands of Olympic visitors was never an expectation for Wild at Art organizers said Neilson. She said Wild at Art is a festival for the locals.
“The festival is more of a way for locals to be part of the Olympic celebrations. A lot of us will be at home watching our televisions, and Wild at Art is a way to celebrate together,” Neilson said.
As Squamish waits for more details, some residents such as Margo Dent, Chamber of Commerce president, remain hopeful. In a statement to The Chief, Dent said the plan is the first of many more announcements regarding movement throughout the Games areas.
“We do not know the full plan for Squamish at this time and will continue to watch as this process evolves,” she said.
Despite challenges, Greg Fischer, president of the Downtown Business Improvement Association (BIA), said Squamish will get creative. He said the community is open for business and people can still enjoy the Squamish.
“We are disappointed but we are always looking at creative ways of leveraging 2010 opportunities. You can still drive to Squamish during the 2010 Games and we have a nice little downtown,” Fischer said.