Lawrence was not awarded a federal grant that would have covered half the cost of its proposed transit hub, sending those involved in the project back into discussions about its scale and location.
The city announced Wednesday that it had not been awarded a $15 million federal transportation grant. City transit leaders said the news will mean an overhaul of previous plans.
The first question is whether plans will still call for a “multimodal” facility that comprises a parking garage, bicycle storage and a public waiting area with restrooms, said Lawrence Public Transit Administrator Robert Nugent.
“If not, then that changes how we look at things,” Nugent said. “We’re not looking where there’s a lot of people parking and a lot of activity so much, we’re looking for a place where we can get buses in and out.”
Such a plan would be much simpler than what was previously being discussed.
Lawrence and University of Kansas transit leaders had been considering a parking lot in front of KU’s Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center as the site for a new central transfer hub. The cost of the project was estimated at approximately $30 million, and in addition to the multimodal components, possibilities included room for retail space as well as the transit system’s administrative offices.
Mayor Mike Amyx said it’s apparent to him that some kind of hub is needed, and he anticipates that the scale of the project will be discussed among commissioners and city staff at a future work session.
“What are the things that we really need and what are the things that maybe we can’t afford to go in and do at this point?” Amyx said. “I think just have a really hard look, along with our advisory board, and just see where we are right now.”
In addition to exactly what facilities the transit hub will consist of, its location is also an unknown. Lawrence and KU officials have said they do not plan to move forward with the location in front of the fitness center.
“At this point we do not have a location we’re even looking at,” Nugent said. “We did a transit center location analysis about four years ago now. Everything that we found in that study we’ve pretty much exhausted over the last three years or so”
Previously proposed locations for the transit hub have included locations near 21st and Iowa streets, Ninth and Iowa streets and within KU’s new central district.
Nugent said that the city and KU will be meeting to discuss alternate sites for the hub, but a date for those meetings has yet to be set. More than likely, though, Nugent said a hub would be on or near KU’s campus.
“The largest generator of trips in our community is KU, so for us to not locate something around KU may not work to the advantage of KU, and the students, faculty and staff there,” Nugent said.
Meanwhile, ridership in Lawrence is up slightly. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of riders per year has increased by about 80,000. In fact, with about 2.9 million riders in 2015, Lawrence received the award for the highest ridership among public transit systems in Kansas from the Federal Transit Administration.
Another big issue facing the transit system is that the sales tax approved by voters in 2008 to fund the system came with a 10-year sunset. Voters are likely going to be asked to approve a renewal of that sales tax in 2017 or 2018. Amyx said that a decision on at least a location for the transit hub should come before a vote.
“I think it’s still got to be our priority that we have at least a location and even proceeding with a hub facility before we go into the vote,” Amyx said. “We obviously said that the sales tax money is going to be used to fund that, and so there’s an expectation there.”
The transit hub plays a key role in that vote because it could allow for more efficient routes. Transit leaders have been holding off on the work of redesigning transit routes until they know where the system’s hub is going to be located.