VANCOUVER, British Columbia, March 11 (Reuters) - Vancouver residents will have to leave their cars at home during next year’s Winter Olympics if the city is to avoid massive gridlock, officials warned on Wednesday.
Spectators trying to get to events in Vancouver and the mountain resort community of Whistler will have little choice but to use public transit while the 2010 Games are on, according to a transportation plan released on Wednesday.
To accommodate the 1,500 buses and other vehicles needed to carry the spectators, athletes and media — along with Games-related road and parking closures — officials will need to reduce the city’s normal car traffic by 30 percent, the report said.
“Our athletes have come here to compete, not commute,” Vancouver City Manager Penny Ballem said.
Transportation planners said their task was complicated by the Pacific Coast city’s geography, including a downtown hemmed in by water on three sides.
There is also only one highway directly connecting Vancouver with Whistler, which is about 120 km (75 miles) away and will be the site of many of the ski events.
Work will be completed shortly on a C$561 million ($437 million) upgrade of the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler that the province agreed to pay for when Vancouver won the Games.
An expansion of the area’s rapid transit system to link it to the airport will also be completed later this year.
Organizers said that pressure on the city’s transit system will be eased somewhat by an agreement with local universities to remain closed during the Games, which will be held Feb. 12 to Feb. 28, followed by the Paralympics in March 2010.
The Vancouver Organizing Committee has budgeted C$158 million for transportation, including C$17.5 million to pay for expanded public transit service, officials said.
It is also getting help from sponsor Canadian Pacific Railway (CP.TO) which will spend an unspecified amount to handle additional commuter trains during the Games. (Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson)