The Olympics are one year away and we’re ready

Did you know that the Winter Olympics are only one year away? Did you also know that we’ve been planning and preparing for the Olympics for several years? Chances are high that you knew the Olympics were drawing near. But you’re probably scratching your head and wondering why we would be preparing for them. I mean, we’re in Washington and the games are in Canada; two different countries, right? What’s there to prepare for?

I was recently interviewed by Chris Daniels from KING 5 about our preparations for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, and thought I would share with you what I shared with him.

We are expecting many Washingtonians, and probably a few Oregonians and Californians, to flock north across the border for the excitement, and that means we’ll see a significant increase in traffic on highways that connect with the Washington/British Columbia border.

We’re planning for a 50-percent increase in traffic during the Olympics. That’s like having August traffic in February. On average, 250,000 more drivers cross the border by vehicle in August than in February. That’s a significant increase.

As of 2008, we have beefed up our traveler information system near the border. We’ve added 11 new traffic cameras, upping our total to 17. We now have cameras pointed at all four border highways so you can monitor traffic congestion.

We’ve also improved our border wait time information system. Wait times are now displayed on overhead electronic signs along I-5, our Web site, and can be accessed via text message. With four border crossings in Whatcom County, you can find out which one has the shortest lines and will take the least time.

In 2003, the Legislature passed a transportation funding package that included money for a project on I-5 in Everett and projects on SR 539 between Bellingham and the border. Those projects were originally scheduled to be in construction during the Olympics, but both routes will be primary thoroughfares during the games. Foreseeing a potential disaster, we petitioned the Legislature to advance funding for the projects so that we could start and finish them before the Olympics. The I-5 project was completed last year and the second of two projects on the Guide will finish this fall. Phew! Crisis averted.

Taking things one step further, we have also scheduled an additional 70-plus personnel and 30-plus pieces of equipment to be in the Whatcom County area during the Olympics (Feb. 12-28). We figure we’ll need the help with traffic control, clearing collisions, fighting snow, ice and/or floods, and anything else that could possibly arise.

I know it seems weird, but we have been planning and preparing for the games since we first learned they were coming to Vancouver. We want to take the gold for being a good neighbor. As far as our work is concerned, we’ll be finished and out of the way of drivers by the time February 2010 rolls around. Hopefully that will help make the Olympic experience that much better for those driving there.

The interview is supposed to air on Feb. 12, the one-year date before the games start.