Providing a connecting point not only for local bus passengers but also those traveling out of town by bus or train is an idea worth pursuing.
Converting the Santa Fe Railway depot in East Lawrence into a public transportation hub would have at least one positive impact immediately and open new opportunities for convenience and efficiency down the road.
The city reportedly is seeking a $15,000 grant to help convert the depot at 413 E. Seventh St. into an "intermodal" transportation facility that would serve three main purposes. It would continue to serve Amtrak passengers on the two trains that stop in Lawrence each day and serve as a bus depot for the Greyhound Lines, which currently stops at a service station on West Sixth Street. It also would be a central transfer point for the city's new "T" bus system.
Moving this transfer point away from Ninth and Massachusetts would be the most immediate positive impact of such a project. Buses congregating at the current transfer point not only take up much-needed downtown parking spaces, they add to traffic congestion at that busy intersection. Those problems will become even more noticeable when the "T's" larger, permanent buses arrive in Lawrence.
Buses still would stop to serve passengers in downtown, but moving the transfer point several blocks to the east would improve traffic flow without unduly inconveniencing passengers. People who want to go downtown can get off the bus there. Those just needing to connect to another line of the "T" can do that just as well at the remodeled depot.
The depot also could provide indoor shelter and other amenities not only for riders of the "T" but for people who are traveling out of town on the Greyhound Lines. Bringing Greyhound buses to the depot would provide passengers easy access to the public buses within the city.
The bus transfer point would provide little or no benefit to Amtrak passengers unless the operating hours of the "T" are expanded because Amtrak trains now arrive in and depart from Lawrence only in the wee hours of the morning. However, if ridership on the "T" increases in years to come, hours may also be expanded to serve rail passengers.
With only two Amtrak trains going through Lawrence each day, the Santa Fe depot clearly is underused and presents an opportunity to serve the city better. And, although the building doesn't strike many Lawrence residents as an example of "historical" architecture, city officials believe its classic 1950s style could make it worthy of inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
City officials will need to look carefully at the costs of operating the converted depot, but the idea seems to have merit both now and for the future.