Get with it.
That’s the message from the Federal Transit Administration, which is holding up payment on the city’s annual, $2.4-million federal grant to help operate the city’s public bus system until the City Council comes up with a plan for a permanent central bus depot, reports Brad DeBrower, the city’s transit manager.
DeBrower will make the point Monday afternoon to the council’s Development Committee when he presents design and cost options, requested by the council, on a plan to return the city’s downtown bus station to its former, flood-damaged site at the Ground Transportation Center.
The city staff’s preferred option among five GTC options, he said, is one in which buses would pull in almost parallel to the walkway outside the GTC depot. That is a change that would eliminate the GTC depot’s existing setup — considered unsafe — where buses pull in nose first, unload and load passengers, and then back out. The safety question was one factor in the City Council’s decision to move the city’s bus operation from the GTC depot to a proposed new facility even before the June 2008, a move that no longer is a council priority.
The preferred option for a return to the GTC depot also is attractive because it does not call for the closing of a section of Fourth Avenue SE to regular traffic or for restricting traffic on First Street SE as two of the other five options do, DeBrower explained on Friday.
The preferred option does call for converting part of Fourth Avenue SE to a two-way street, which the City Council has been considering for the last few years.
For now, the city’s central bus station continues to operate from a couple of modular buildings set up in the city’s park-and-ride lot at Second Street SE and 12th Avenue SE, where it has the depot’s home since soon after the June 2008 flood.
In the meantime, the City Council had been working on an idea to buy two-plus-blocks of downtown property, one block of which was to be used to house a new Intermodal Transit Facility. The city has had $8-million federal grant for nearly a decade to build the new facility as the site for it has migrated from one proposed spot to another.
However, in May, the council gave up on the idea of buying the two-plus blocks of downtown property and of paying to relocate current owner PepsiAmericas because of cost, and instead, the council said it wanted to see a bus plan to go back to the GTC depot.
Going back to the GTC bus depot will require the city to give up on the $8-million federal grant for a new transit facility, though what the city won’t get is really less than $8 million.
The city first secured the Intermodal grant with a plan to build a new Intermodal Transit Facility with 500-stall parking ramp and to keep the GTC bus depot in place as the city’s main downtown bus depot.
The Intermodal plan, though, evolved into one without a parking ramp and one which called for incorporating the city’s GTC bus depot into it. However, the move out of the GTC bus depot and into a new Intermodal requires the city to pay the Federal Transit Administration back $3.555 million from the money it provided the city to build the GTC bus depot in the first place. In other words, the $8 million grant really becomes some closer to $4.5 million with the payback.
DeBrower put the cost estimate of the preferred option to return to the GTC depot at $2.645 million for exterior reconstruction over and above the $1.48 million that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has estimated it will pay the city to repair the flood-damaged interior of the building.
The city could return to the GTC depot for an estimated cost of as little as $695,000 above the FEMA disaster payment, though this option would change little and still have buses backing up to leave the depot, DeBrower said.
He said it’s up to the council to pick the option it likes best.
“We’re to the point we just need a permanent home,” he said.
In addition to to the GTC options, DeBrower and the city’s consultants have worked up two new options for a new Intermodal Transit Facility, both of which call for building a $10-million facility on the city’s park-and-ride lot between Eighth and 12th avenues SE and Second Street SE and the Cedar River. The net cost to the city for the new facility on this site, which the city already owns, is estimated at $5.76 million. However, the cost estimate could be more because it is based on the premise that someone would pay the city $2 million for the GTC depot if the city would not use it for buses and bus patrons.