More than four years since the idea was first proposed, the question of a public transit center is set to resurface. And as before, the first question will be the center’s location.
Transit leaders say all options are on the table again, including downtown, as they plan another analysis to determine where the most suitable location would be for the city’s bus station.
“We’re going to look at the data again, and if the data drives us toward doing something in the downtown — even though that’s not where it drove us the first time — we’d be open to that,” said Lawrence Public Transit Administrator Robert Nugent. “So we’re really open to whatever the study points us toward.”
Nugent said the study would use the transit system’s most recent ridership data, and the goal is to have the hub be centrally located and to benefit both the University of Kansas and the city as much as possible. He said the study is part of the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization's proposed work plan for 2017 and would also take into account road networks and demographics.
The original study on a transit center was done in 2012, and several locations were considered and ultimately ruled out, some after vocal opposition from nearby neighborhoods. At one point, the city was considering locating a $30 million multimodal transit hub near the KU Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center. That plan was abandoned last year after the city failed to win a federal transportation grant that would have covered half of the project’s cost.
After moving around the downtown area several times in recent years, the transfer location for the city’s bus operations was moved to the 700 block of Vermont Street, directly across the street from the Lawrence Public Library. The city is currently considering using a location near the library for the bus stop for the Greyhound bus service, which has struggled to find a location for the past 14 months.
Before the new transit center location study could begin, it would have to be approved by the Lawrence City Commission. If approved, the study would help determine an initial view of what would be required — and what type of facility might need to be built — in order to operate at a particular location, Nugent said. If it were to include a new facility, that would likely require significant investment in a downtown location, he said.
“It would have to be a multimodal in a downtown (location), because there’s no place big enough for us to operate,” Nugent said. “So we’d have to build a parking deck, pretty much, to operate in.”
Meanwhile, local leaders will soon be having another conversation when it comes to public transit. The .55 percent citywide sales tax — which includes .25 percent to help fund the transit service — is set to sunset at the end of 2018. City Manager Tom Markus has previously said that the City Commission will discuss the renewal of the sales tax as part of budget discussion this spring, including timing of a possible ballot measure.
Nugent said the transit location study would not be complete in time for those discussions, and that a proposal regarding the transit center likely would not be made until 2018.