tag costs 

Loreth Beswetherick If everything outlined in Whistler’s comprehensive transportation strategy was to be implemented between now and 2011, the bill could run up to an estimated $60 million. Municipal staff have determined about $45 million in one-time capital costs would be required for the items identified in the strategy — like new roads, walking and bike trails, traffic signals and a new cabriolet lift in the village to shuttle skiers from parking lots to the base of the hills. Ongoing annual costs, as the items are phased in over the next decade, would make up the difference. Just who will pay how much of that overall bill is something that will be thrashed out at the next Transportation Advisory Group meeting, tentatively slated for Aug. 11. TAG has asked municipal staff to come up with a proposal for a budget breakdown for the meeting. Groups that will end up bearing a share of the costs will include the municipality, Ministry of Transportation and Highways, B.C. Transit, Whistler-Blackcomb and the Whistler Resort Association. With so many variables — like continual provincial funding cutbacks — it wont’ be easy to apportion the bill. However, TAG chair Bill Murray said some kind of a budget breakdown must be done before the transportation strategy can be finalized and taken to the public some time in September or October. "Before we go forward, we want all of the parties and the public to be clear that this is the price tag and this is where we will be coming from on an approximate basis," said Murray. "It’s a very difficult thing to do. Each item has to be negotiated on a piece by piece basis with two, three or even four different parties but we would still like to put an approximate price tag for each of the parties." Murray said traditionally the $36 million budgeted for roads, for example, would be shared with the province. "Under normal circumstances we would probably have half of that shared with the province but they have made it clear there are no up-front guarantees." The same goes for other items like the cabriolet lift which may be the responsibility of the mountains or the WRA, said Murray. After the transportation plan went to a public meeting in December last year, the intent was to take feedback into account, make revisions and come back with a final plan that included the budget and identified "trigger points" — points where critical congestion is reached and a new aspect of the transportation strategy will kick in. Those trigger points have now been quantified and will also be tabled at the August meeting. "We hope to say, this is where we are right now, this is what we see as acceptable, and when that level gets unacceptable, we will kick in with some of these things in the plan," said Murray. The TAG strategy, however, does not have to rack up $60 million. If transportation demand is managed effectively with a number of carrot and stick approaches to encourage alternative modes of travel, trigger points may not be reached. "We are hoping that through improved transportation demand management we can, for instance, not build the bypass," said Murray. The bypass or Nita Lake Parkway alone carries a tag of between $25 and $30 million. The road would take northbound traffic off Highway 99 south of Function Junction, continue along the west side of the valley and feed it back to Highway 99 just north of Nordic Estates. The municipality is currently advertising for a TDM co-ordinator to help find ways to reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles on the road through incentives and disincentives that encourage people to walk, bike, car pool and take transit. Pay parking will play a large factor in providing a disincentive to drive. "It’s a number of carrot and stick items — hopefully mostly carrots," said Murray. Although pay parking is possible for next winter, said Murray, it is highly unlikely it will be implemented so soon. The TAG goal is to reduce traffic by 15 per cent by 2010 or sooner. Murray said the most exciting news to come out of the recent TAG meeting was a report on studies done last winter showing there has already been a significant reduction in the number of vehicles and delays on the highway last season compared to the previous two winters. There was a 10 per cent drop in the number of cars on the road compared to the winter 1997/98. Transit ridership jumped from just over one million to 1.8 million last winter and although the mountains saw a 20 per cent increase in skier visits, they were mostly destination skiers who come for longer periods and don’t bring their cars. "I guess our TDMs are working," said Murray. TAG was formed in 1996 to address the transportation problems in Whistler. The group is comprised of a number of stakeholders including residents, councillors, municipal staff, representatives from Whistler-Blackcomb, the WRA, BC Transit and the Ministry of Transportation and Highways. One of TAG’s first actions was to commission a $400,000 study of transportation needs and develop a comprehensive strategy or "vision" for transportation in the valley. That final strategy will be made public some time in September or October.


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