Patrons of Cedar Rapids' bus system have come in from the cold.
As promised, the city opened its once-flood-damaged, now-renovated Ground Transportation Center bus depot by a Monday deadline, which will prevent bus customers from spending a sixth winter since the 2008 flood at a temporary depot of modular homes that provided only some shelter from winter weather.
"It’s nice to see the buses are rolling into the Ground Transportation Center once again," Mayor Ron Corbett said on Monday. "The downtown is getting back to normal."
Assistant City Manager Sandi Fowler said contractors still have some work to do at the bus depot in the next couple weeks, including some work on the outdoor overhead canopies. Other than that, the facility was ready for passengers on Monday, she said.
"We’re thrilled to open the new facility," Fowler said. "We wanted to make sure we got them into that nice, warm, permanent facility before the weather turned bad."
Come spring, some additional exterior work will be done at the facility and on Fourth and Fifth avenues SE between First and Third streets SE, both of which will convert to two-way traffic to better accommodate bus traffic, Fowler said.
The city has spent more than a decade trying to figure out what it wanted to do with its downtown bus depot. But in the end the City Council said it made most sense to return it to the spot where it had been before the 2008 flood.
The renovation of the depot changes the way that city buses approach and leave the depot so buses are no longer backing from their slots.
At the same time, pedestrians will be able to walk by the depot without having to cross the street to get around it.
"You’re able to walk on the sidewalk all the way from the federal courthouse and the TrueNorth building to First Avenue and not have to walk around the transit center," Fowler said. "Now it’s integrated into downtown."
The renovation project cost $10.5 million. Of the total, $1.5 million is from Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funds, $7.4 million from the Federal Transit Administration and $1.6 million from local-option sales tax revenue.
The city’s bus system provides 1.2 million rides a year.
The City Council last month approved a new schedule of bus fares that will let customers ride city buses on Saturdays for free, will raise the basic adult fare 25 cents per ride — to $1.50 — and lower other rates.
The city also is implementing a new income-based program that will allow low-income adults to qualify for half-price fares.The modular buildings that have served as the city’s temporary bus depot in a parking lot at Second Street and 12th Avenue SE will be taken down and carted off to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Fowler said.