City Commission approves grant application for transit hub, now estimated to cost $30 million

photo by: Mike Yoder

A Lawrence Transit System bus stops just south of Seventh and Vermont streets, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016.

The cost estimate for a city transportation hub and parking deck located on the Kansas University campus was upped from $20 million to $34 million late last week, and then lowered to $30 million Tuesday.

Estimates wavered during preparations for a grant application. Project leaders were working to determine the cost of adding a level to a parking deck that’s planned to rise above a ground-level transportation center. The addition brings the structure, planned for KU’s Lot 90, to five stories.

Of the latest $30 million estimate, KU has pledged to pay $11 million and provide the land.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A preliminary rendering released Tuesday shows plans for a city transportation hub and Kansas University parking deck proposed for Lot 90, just west of Ambler Student Recreation Center.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lot 90, the parking lot in front of Kansas University's Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center, is highlighted on this map of the southern portion of KU's campus along Naismith Drive.

The City Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to allow Lawrence Transit System to submit a grant application for the project to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The vote means the city is committed to providing funding required to match the federal grant if the grant is awarded and accepted by the city. The city’s share is capped at $4 million.

The vote came after project planners and city staff reiterated that the approval did not mean the City Commission was totally committing to the hub and its location.

“We can still say no to the project,” said Robert Nugent, administrator of the Lawrence Transit System. “What we’re asking is just the opportunity to submit this grant. We’re not done looking at the site.”

City Manager Tom Markus said the vote “does not absolutely bind you.”

Commissioner Matthew Herbert, who ended up supporting the measure, said more details should’ve been provided before the City Commission voted to support the project. He noted the shifting cost estimate and an absence of detailed renderings.

“We don’t have an application. We’re being asked to offer a letter of support for an application you haven’t seen,” he said. “The price tag jumped $10 million in four days and dropped $4 [million] suddenly.”

Danny Kaiser, associate director of KU Parking and Transit, said the shift in cost estimates was due to KU’s efforts to gain enough parking spaces to make the payoff worth the investment. Plans include approximately 1,400 spaces. The site on which the structure will be built currently holds 600 parking spaces.

“It probably feels like we don’t know what we’re doing,” Kaiser said. “We had a very short turnaround in developing this grant. We’ve done the best we can to get the best numbers we can, and we’re honing them down and refining them.”

“If we can’t put all that parking in, the university would have to say no to this, because it can’t afford to bond out a smaller project,” he said. “We’ve upped our ante a lot; we’ve put a lot of skin in the game; and we’re asking the city to put its portion in.”

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program offers to provide up to 80 percent of total project costs, but KU and Lawrence Transit System are asking for only 49 percent, or $15 million.

Asking for a lower percentage of total project costs could help Lawrence’s chances at receiving a grant, Nugent said.

When the estimate was $20 million, project leaders were hoping to receive $16 million through the grant, with KU and the city splitting the remaining $4 million.

The city’s share increases with the new estimate, Nugent said, but more than $4 million is available in the transit system’s reserve funds. The money came from a 0.05 percent sales tax approved by voters in 2008 — a tax set to expire in 2019.

KU and the Lawrence Transit System needed the City Commission’s approval Tuesday in order to submit the grant by an April 29 deadline. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little has given her approval to proceed with the grant application, Kaiser said.

The project team will work up until the April 29 grant deadline, with a public meeting on the issue planned for Wednesday at Fire Station No. 5, 1911 Stewart Ave.

The University Place Neighborhood will meet Thursday to also discuss the project. Steve Evans, president of the neighborhood association, told commissioners Tuesday the neighborhood was being included in the process and hasn’t yet formed a position on it.

“We don’t want to come to any broad conclusions about this until we have more facts,” Evans said.

So far, plans for the ground-level transportation center, dubbed a “multimodal hub,” include a covered waiting area, administrative offices and restrooms. A roundabout is being proposed for the intersection of 18th and Naismith Drive.

Nugent said the new hub, and its central location, would reduce bus travel time.

“Our intention is to get half-hour service on every route,” Nugent said. “That’s what we’re hoping to accomplish with this.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation will announce TIGER grant recipients this fall. In the meantime, work will continue on environmental and traffic studies and detailed drawings.