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Mums the word for BC Transit

New bus facility’s construction budget will be kept confidential until September



Whistler taxpayers will put millions of dollars towards the new bus facility near Nesters - but they won't get to see the bill until the project is almost complete.

Even though the Resort Municipality of Whistler is required to pay for 53 per cent of the core construction costs, B.C. Transit announced this week they will not release the multi-million dollar capital budget until September.

The reason for keeping the numbers secret, explained spokesperson Joanna Morton, is because the crown agency still has contracts out to tender and does not want to tip-off prospective bidders.

"We would feel comfortable releasing the final budget once all the contracts have been awarded," said Morton.

Over the past few months, B.C. Transit has shared a draft budget with municipal staff and councillors during closed-door meetings - but some councillors believe the budget should also be released publicly.

It is like you go out to dinner with someone, agree to split the bill down the middle and then they say they are not going to tell you how much the bill is until September, said councillor Grant Lamont.

"Philosophically, I think if we are paying 53 per cent of the bill, the people of Whistler have the right to know how much it is costing them and not to have it dropped on them like a bomb," he said.

"I really believe as the majority partner, we should be the ones dictating what should be public and what shouldn't."

Lamont added that he is concerned that the costs are "incredibly high." While he is a big believer in transit, he says it has to be affordable.

Ted Milner, who sits on the Whistler Transit Committee, also said B.C. Transit should be up front about the cost.

"Such a budget should be released, absolutely," said Milner.

"If you are asking for proposals on elements of it, I don't see how it should affect the whole budget."

Milner added he can "only conclude that they are not releasing the budget because there are things that are way more than they should be."

B.C. Transit and the municipality have an agreement where Whistler is responsible for 53 per cent of costs associated with core transit services. But the municipality is not on the hook for any costs associated with the hydrogen component or any upgrades associated with the Olympics.

Councillor Ralph Forsyth said that B.C. Transit is the municipality's partner and councillors have to respect that.

"They are not releasing it, and they have their reasons," said Forsyth.

Construction is currently well underway for the facility being built near the municipal works yard near Nesters. B.C. Transit crews first broke ground last fall, and the bus hub is slated to open next January in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Work on the bus storage will be done by July; the diesel fueling station will be done in August; the access road will be finished in September; the hydrogen fueling station will be done in November; and the maintenance facility will be complete in December.

The bus hub is designed to hold up to 50 buses and some of those buses will be the 20 state-of-the-art hydrogen vehicles coming to Whistler this fall as part of a provincially-federally funded pilot program to showcase hydrogen.

Once complete, the facility will be owned completely by B.C. Transit.

Construction on the facility also stirred up considerable controversy last August when several community members, including biologists, said the site's environmental value made it unfit for construction. However the wetland, owned by BC Hydro, is exempt from municipal regulation.