PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am

The road to the Olympics is long and arduous. For commuters and residents in Vancouver, which is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the journey has been excruciating lately.

As the city forges ahead with a rapid-transit project linking the international airport to downtown, drivers and pedestrians have been confronted with some big changes around town: barriers where there were none before, and neither road nor footpath where there were both before.

Last week, drivers were confronted with what is expected to be a year-long slowdown of traffic on the six-lane Cambie Bridge as the bustling roadway overnight became a seething slow-moving mass of irate motorists.

Off-ramps have been shut down so demolition work can begin in preparation for the construction of tunnels and stations. New turning restrictions are in effect, and traffic has been reduced to one lane in each direction near the south end of the bridge, which leads to downtown.

Some frustrated drivers, calling into radio shows, compared the divisiveness of the barriers to that of the Berlin Wall, cutting off east from west.

For residents who live near the construction, the traffic woes are compounded by the noise and mess.

Even before construction of the 19km rail line began, residents and businesses along Cambie Street complained that their peace and prosperity were going to be the price paid for the commuter system.

'We knew it was going to be bad,' said Luc Morin, who lives a block from Cambie. 'But it's much worse than any of us imagined. I can't get out of my house without having to push barriers out of the way.'

Mr Morin, who does not use a car, said he has been forced to take five-to-10-block detours to move around the construction and the barriers that have been set up.

With footpaths gone and parking spaces torn up, small business operators have been hurt the most.

'People are very frustrated and feeling powerless right now, and unsure how to raise their voice on this,' said Gregor Robertson, the area's member of the provincial legislature. 'Most people agree with the need for the subway line, but this has gone beyond what people imagined, and we still have three more years of this,' he said.

Along Cambie Street, some businesses have lost as much as 40 per cent of their revenue.

Hair salon owner Neil Barkey said some businesses simply will not be able to weather the storm.

Mr Barkey - a director of the Cambie Village Business Association, which represents more than 200 businesses on a 19-block stretch, said the noise levels alone are disruptive.

'It is a real war zone out there right now in every way,' he said. 'Traffic is very slow.'

Small business operators have remortgaged their homes and cashed in savings in an attempt to ride out the disruption.

As anyone from elsewhere can attest, Vancouver's roadways and byways are still fairly accessible, and commuter traffic at its worse is still nowhere near the levels of Shanghai or Mumbai.

For now, there remains a disparity between the city Vancouver is becoming, with all the density and traffic that entails, and the perception still among those who wonder from behind their steering wheels why there are so many other drivers suddenly on the road all heading nowhere fast.