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Transit facility cost finally made public

Whistler taxpayers to foot half the $23 million bill over 30 years

The long-awaited capital costs for Whistler's new transit facility have finally been made public - $23.2 million.

While that's $2 million under the original $25.2 million B.C. Transit budget, it still means that Whistler taxpayers will be on the hook for half the cost, at more than $11 million.

That cost, to be borne by Whistler taxpayers over the next 30 years, will be built into the annual operating agreements with B.C. Transit.

Mayor Ken Melamed released the number at Tuesday's council meeting, after asking B.C. Transit if he could make the number public. Transit had been reticent to release the final budget until it had tendered all parts of the project.

"This is a necessary investment," said the mayor.

"We were going to do it anyway. And this is the cost of construction with the most efficient construction methods possible.

"There's no reason for them (B.C. Transit) to pad this project. They're under as tight budgetary constraints as we are..."

But at least one developer, with two decades of building experience in Whistler, disagrees. The budget, said Steve Bayly, is about double what he would have expected for the size and type of facility.

Bayly acknowledges some may say he has sour grapes. He had hoped, after all, to build the new transit facility on his lands at Mons Road after long leasing his Function Junction building to B.C. Transit.

His estimates for a basic 50-bus facility at Mons were $8 million.

"Some people prefer a Rolls Royce when a Toyota will do," said Bayly, adding that the Rolls gives added prestige, but also added costs.

"I don't think it's very practical, especially when the cost is paid by others," said Bayly.

"It far exceeds the need and, even though Whistler only bears half the cost, we're a small community."

Mayor Melamed is expecting some reaction in the community. The budget has been kept under wraps by B.C. Transit for months, even though taxpayers have to foot the cost of half the bill.

"I expect people will react to the number. It would be unusual if there was no comment," admitted the mayor.

"It's one of those cases where the decision was made and we have incorporated the costs into our budget."

It is not clear how much Whistler's annual operating agreement with B.C. Transit has changed. The mayor pointed out that there are increased costs to fuel and wages that have been built into those contracts, in addition to the capital cost payments.

The release of the facility costs, however, was welcomed by some members of council who have been trying to put the pressure on B.C. Transit to make the numbers public. Council learned of the costs in a closed-door meeting in March but could not reveal them.

At the last meeting three of the seven council members opposed the standard operating contract with Transit to get the message across that the numbers must be made public.

Councillor Eckhard Zeidler was one to withhold his vote for the agreement.

"People not only want to know, they have a right to know," he said this week, pleased that the costs are now public.

"I thought it's important that the community knows what they invested in."

The facility was officially commissioned on Tuesday with the buses spending their first night there and operating out of the new building on Wednesday.

"At the end of the day it is a transit facility, it was designed to be very efficient," said B.C. Transit spokesperson Joanna Morton.

"It was built so that it can last in Whistler for 40 years."

She said B.C. Transit was pleased with getting the facility built in a tight timeframe and under budget.

"To actually pull this off before the Games, we're quite pleased," said Morton.

B.C. Transit is still planning to hold a grand open house for the community in the New Year. A date has yet to be set for that event.