Work on the day skier parking lots and the Fitzsimmons Creek debris barrier should begin next month, after council awarded the tenders for both projects Monday evening.
Bids for both projects came in below budget: The parking lot project went to Whistler Excavation for their $2.8 million proposal, and construction of the debris barrier was awarded to Creekside Resources for their $2.9 million submission.
Most councillors spoke highly of the projects, which were tied together in January when the municipality acquired title to the parking lots from the B.C. government in return for building the debris barrier before the 2010 Games.
“This is a good news story for Whistler,” said Councillor Bob Lorriman.
“We get ownership of the parking lots, we get a debris barrier, and the icing on the cake is this is not costing taxpayers. It is revenue neutral.”
Upgrading the parking lots and implementing pay parking is a project that has been on the table since at least the mid-1990s.
James Hallisey, manager of environmental projects, said the municipality has been planning the parking lot project since last fall.
“The main goal of our upgrades are really to improve the visitor experience,” said Hallisey. “Often the parking lots are fine, but there are times when they can be bad and full of mud and icy puddles, which is not the best way to welcome people to a world class resort.”
As part of the agreement, Lots 1, 2, and 3 will be paved with asphalt, a storm water collection system will be installed, 39 streetlights will be erected, and seven covered stairways will be built by July 2009.
VANOC will use the paved lots during the 2010 Winter Olympics, and pay parking will come into effect the following summer.
Proposed parking rates for the 876 spots will be $8 a day in the winter and $12 a day in the summer. Hourly rates will be between $1.50 and $2 an hour.
Hallisey said the municipality expects $2 million a year in revenue from the pay parking. The money will go towards the capital costs of paving the lots and building the debris barrier, as well as the operating costs of the parking lots and a resident transit affordability program.
Lots 4 and 5, which hold 1,200 parking spots, will not be upgraded and remain free.
While Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden supported the application, she said that parking pricing needs to be looked at in more detail, including discounts for employees and carpoolers.
“There is a lot of work that has to be done before pay parking is implemented and a lot more consultation with the community than we have done in the last month or two,” said Wilhelm-Morden.
Acting mayor Ralph Forsyth, the only councillor to vote against the proposal, was concerned that the model used to calculate the $2 million revenue did not take into account that local traffic will probably decline.
“If we are going to use the revenue to subsidize transit, have we assumed that less people are going to drive into town?” he asked.
Lisa Landry, general manager of economic viability, confirmed that the revenue was calculated assuming 57 per cent of the cars parked on the lots during a survey last March would return.
Like the parking lots, plans to build a debris barrier go back several years.
The debris barrier will protect against a one in 500 year flood, which engineers have predicted will happen if the Fitzsimmons landslip goes. The barrier would trap large boulders and logs coming down Fitzsimmons Creek and prevent flooding of Whistler Village.
Hallisey said engineers have pushed the limits on how big they can make the steel beams that will span the creek as part of the barrier, to make sure water and fish remain undisturbed.
The price of the steel was not included in the tender package, because Hallisey said it will be cheaper for the municipality to acquire it themselves than buying through the contractor. The steel is budgeted at $1.1 million
The municipality has set aside a total of $6.9 million for the debris barrier structure, an access road and a sediment pond. That figure includes an 11 per cent contingency.
Approximately $4.6 million has been budgeted for the parking lot upgrades, with a 23 per cent contingency.
Now that both projects are moving forward, Councillor Tim Wake spoke about the need to communicate clearly with the community about the projects.
“The community does not understand this issue, based on conversations I have had,” said Wake.
“I feel very comfortable in where we are going. It has been a long time coming, but it has also been misunderstood for a long time. I would encourage staff and council to stay diligent with the community moving forward.”
Added Councillor Gord McKeever: “Another owner of this could easily be inclined to implement pay parking that would be outside our (municipal) control, and we might find that those 1,200 spots in Lots 4 and 5 would not be free.
“As expensive as it is now to build the debris barrier and implement pay parking, I think it is far more expensive not to do it now.”