AVON - People looking north from the center of town have recently seen a lot of steel rising from the hillside. That steel structure will later this year turn into a place that will ultimately save money for two local transit operations.
The facility, which should be finished by October or so, has been in the planning stages for about a decade, and was finally made possible with federal "stimulus" funds. That money accounted for about 90 percent of the $12 million facility price tag.
Taxpayers won't see much in the way of immediately obvious benefits. The advantages are more subtle, and will be seen in checks transit officials aren't writing.
For instance, parking a diesel-engined bus outside in a mountain winter is hard on the equipment. Buses have to be plugged into heaters overnight. Then, on startup, those buses need to warm up to make sure all the systems are operating property - never mind get heat into the passenger cabins.
"Even when they've been warmed up, we've had brakes freeze up on buses," town transit director Jane Burden said.
Buses parked outside in the winter also don't last as long as those parked inside. With the cost of an average city bus now about $360,000, anything that will get a few more years out of a vehicle will save money for the people who buy them - in this case, taxpayers.
"We estimate one or two years per bus of extra use," Avon Town Engineer Justin Hildreth said.
Multiply that by the 20 or so town and county buses that will use the facility at first, and the savings add up quickly.
Eagle County's ECO Transit system has parked buses up-valley - but outside - for a couple of years before work started on the new building. That has saved on labor and fuel costs incurred by driving the buses, empty, all the way to the county's motor pool in Gypsum. It also puts buses and drivers closer to most of the system's riders.
Once the new building is done - and an agreement between the town and county is finalized - ECO will lease space for about nine buses at the new facility. The town, of course, will park its 10 buses. That leaves about five spaces available, and Hildreth said the town is looking for other agencies to lease them. The Beaver Creek Resort Company would be the most likely partner, but Hildreth said the building will likely open with some space available.
ECO Transit Director Kelley Collier echoed her town transit counterparts' comments on the advantages of having heated, up-valley parking available. While the numbers in the agreement aren't final yet, Collier said she expects the county will save money by having buses parked in Avon. A big bus gets about six miles per gallon, an the county bought diesel fuel for $3.85 per gallon in February. Those numbers quickly acquire lots of zeroes.
The need for indoor parking goes beyond the wintertime needs of diesel engines.
"These are sophisticated vehicles," Burden said, referring to conventional diesel-engined buses. Throw in a hybrid bus, with its batteries, sophisticated circuitry and miles of wiring, and it becomes even more important to protect those systems from the elements whenever possible.
Add in the fact that the buses parked in the new building will be warm and clean for guests, and Burden is even more of a fan.
"I'm very excited," she said. "This has been on my (to-do) list for a long time."