A new jointly operated bus maintenance facility is the next stop for the city and Kansas University in their efforts to make their two bus systems operate more as one.
“I’ve said it before: Lawrence is too small to have two bus systems running in this town,” said Commissioner Aron Cromwell as the commission unanimously approved the joint project at its Tuesday evening meeting.
The new maintenance facility — slated for the Timberedge Industrial Park north of I-70 — won’t merge the two systems, but rather will make it easier for the KU and city systems to work together more closely, commissioners said.
The new six-bay maintenance facility will replace a two-bay facility the city and KU jointly lease near 31st and Haskell. The new facility also will have more office space to allow operators of the two systems to work side by side.
The deal, however, will require the city to bring more money to the $4.5 million project than KU, even though the university will be the ultimate owner of the building and will house twice as many buses at the facility.
City commissioners on Tuesday, however, said they were willing to move forward on the project, in part because more than half of the city’s total contribution to the project will be reimbursed through already-approved federal grants and stimulus dollars.
“I think this is a great step in the right direction,” City Commissioner Mike Dever said. “We have been working hard to legitimatize our transit system and we’re working hard to legitimize the partnerships between these two systems.”
City staff members estimated the new facility will save the city about $400,000 in local funds over 10 years, compared with what the city currently pays in lease rates for the 31st and Haskell facility.
Mayor Rob Chestnut ultimately voted for the deal, but said he had reservations about the financial arrangement the city had reached with the university, including the amount the city was putting into the project given that it would not have an ownership stake in the building. He said, though, that the potential for increased coordination between the two systems made it necessary for him to support the project.
“The numbers alone do not tell me this is a good deal,” Chestnut said. “My intuition tells me it is a good deal.”
The building, which will be constructed by Lawrence-based Advanco, is expected to be completed in mid-December.
In other City Commission news, commissioners:
• Approved an ordinance that will allow licensed pedicabs to begin operating on certain streets in the city. The commission previously had received a request from a Lawrence resident who wants to start a pedicab business in downtown.
• Directed staff members to work on a contingency plan that would allow the city to back out of a proposal to take over ownership of the Santa Fe Depot in east Lawrence. Commissioners are hoping to have the building transferred to the city from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. But commissioners on Tuesday said they want the ability to back out of the deal if they do not receive an approximately $600,000 federal grant that will allow the city to make Americans with Disabilities Act and other improvements to the building.