SUNSHINE COAST, B.C. – Some Sunshine Coast residents are pressing for a new highway along the coast.

“What we would term a real highway,” SC101 committee spokesperson Robin Merriott said.

In a letter to B.C.’s minister of transportation and infrastructure (and North Island MLA) Claire Trevena on behalf of the committee, Merriott said spending on maintenance and minor upgrades on the Sunshine Coast Highway is “not relevant to the issue at hand and does nothing to resolve the real traffic issues impacting us.”

“By any definition, the existing two-lane road from Langdale to Earls Cove, with hundreds of private and public access points and virtually no options for passing or safe areas for bicycles and pedestrians over its 80 km length, is not a highway,” Merriott said in the letter.

“Further, we are already one of the fastest growing communities in the province and are likely to continue to grow rapidly in the coming decades.”

Merriott said in the letter that “ever increasing ferry usage and traffic volumes are already overloading our infrastructure.”

The committee is challenging Trevena to ensure any studies, including the rumoured “Corridor Evaluation Study”, focus on optimistic growth projections and long term solutions.

They believe the “Southern Sunshine Coast Highway” will improve the livability, sustainability and safety for residents and visitors alike, as well as opportunities to demonstrate new technologies that will be useful in future projects around the province.

In a letter to Merriott dated April 4, Trevena said the ministry previously studied the concept of a new highway between Gibsons and Sechelt and shared the results with local communities.

“The review of traffic volumes did not support the significant cost to build this highway. Extensive environmental concerns and the interest of the Sechelt First Nation would also be primary considerations,” Trevena said in the letter.

“We continue to monitor traffic volumes and development in the area, as well as work with the local communities, the Sechelt First Nation and private developers to identify future safety and capacity improvements on the existing Highway 101 corridor.”

Trevena noted that over the past 10 years, the ministry has invested $5.3 million towards improvements along the Highway 101 corridor in collaboration with the local communities and regional district.

She added in the letter that some of these improvements include new crosswalks, cycling signs, shoulder widening, widened transit pullouts, and enhanced signs and road markings along the corridor.

“Our data shows that during this time, the safety performance on this route has improved significantly, with a 26 per cent reduction in the severity and frequency of collisions through the communities,” she said in the letter.

“More than seventy per cent of the highway between Gibsons and Earls Cove has now been widened to better accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. The ministry has started a review of Highway 101 between Langdale and Sechelt to develop a strategic plan that will prioritize incremental improvements to address traffic and safety concerns along the highway. The study should be completed later this year.”

In a phone interview, Merriott said the group set up a petition and over a year’s time, collected more than 6,400 signatures, which Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons presented to the legislature on March 28.

The committee also met with Trevena.

“Shortly afterwards in April, she sent us a letter basically saying that they spent several million dollars doing improvements along this highway, and we replied that we don’t feel that this really is a true highway,” Merriott said.

“It’s too busy, there are residences that all come out onto the highway, there are places where it is only two lanes most of the way, so if there are any accidents, anything happens it’s a safety issue because the road blocks.”

He also noted that bridge at Chapman Creek is a bottleneck.

Traffic is increasing every year on Highway 101, according to Merriott, who said it intensifies in the summertime.

“BC Ferries… their traffic’s rising all the time,” Merriott said. “There’s also more trucks on the road, that’s another issue… heavy trucks, which this road was never designed for. The infrastructure just can’t cope with it.”

Merriott said the committee has the backing of the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD), Sechelt council members, and the local chamber of commerce: “All the local authorities and groups are backing us, and we’re really working with them on this, as well. It’s not just us, it’s everybody.”

The key is persistence, he added.

“We just have to keep pushing,” Merriott said. “We’re confident that one day we’ll get it done.”

The committee plans to be at events along the coast, in their efforts to garner support and get their message for a new highway across to residents.

The group has a Facebook page devoted to their cause.