Fresh off a resounding tax increase vote last summer, officials at Intercity Transit have announced plans to construct a $7.8 million transit center in downtown Olympia.
Let’s hope that Greyhound officials agree to a long-term lease, making the new transit center a true hub of South Sound’s mass transit system.
Last August, an overwhelming 64.2 percent of the voters of Thurston County – more than 24,000 of them – approved a two-tenths of 1 percent increase in the sales tax to continue and slightly expand bus, vanpool and carpool operations in Yelm, Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater and their urbanized areas.
Transit officials made good on that promise in February by making modest service improvements based on community comments collected after the vote.
The 3.1-percent increase in overall operating hours for the Thurston County transit system meant an increase to evening and weekend service on some routes and a peak-hour increase to 15-minute frequency on one of the system’s most-used routes – between the transit center and The Evergreen State College.
Improvements were made to eight of Intercity Transit’s 22 bus routes. In transit terms, the changes totaled 6,208 additional hours of bus service on area roads annually and included runs to Westfield Capital mall, Hawks Prairie, Yelm and the Olympia to Tacoma Mall commuter run.
Transit managers took the election results and public comments as a signal to proceed with plans to update the transit center at 222 State Ave.
The center, which takes up the entire block between State and Olympia avenues, and Washington and Franklin streets, was built in 1993. The transit center is ideally located in the heart of the downtown shopping district within easy walking distance of most merchants, restaurants and entertainment venues. It’s within blocks of The Olympia Center, Percival Landing, many social service providers, the new Hands on Children’s Museum, the LOTT headquarters and education center and Olympia’s new City Hall.
But the growing popularity of bus transportation has taxed the transit center. The center has 10 bus bays, and five buses have to stop on the street. When the expansion is complete, the transit center will have 21 bays, but some buses will continue to stop on the street.
IT spokeswoman Meg Kester said, “That really will be a centerpiece to the downtown of the future,” she said.
According to Ann Freeman-Manzanares, development director for the transit agency, work on the center is scheduled to get under way in May or June, with construction completed in the summer 2013.
The 12,387-square-foot building will be constructed on the northeast corner of the same block as the existing transit center. It will include an outlet for pass and ticket sales, a large covered waiting area, an indoor reception area, restrooms and expanded bicycle facilities.
The transit agency’s executive staff members and marketing, planning and other departments will occupy the second and third floors, said Freeman-Manzanares. Maintenance staffers, dispatchers and other staff members would remain at the agency’s Pattison Street headquarters.
The project will be largely funded by a combination of federal money and local dollars totaling $4.7 million. Kester said the remaining money will come out of the agency’s general fund.
“I think it is fair to say that we would not ... be moving ahead with the project if there were not significant federal funds associated with the project,” she said.
It’s imperative that Intercity Transit continue negotiations to draw Greyhound, the largest provider of intercity bus transportation in the country, to the new transit center. Greyhound serves more than 2,300 destinations with 13,000 daily departures and accommodates about 25 million passengers each year.
While the number of Greyhound buses passing through the capital city has dwindled, the national carrier is nonetheless a key transportation player for South Sound. The Greyhound station is about five blocks south of the transit center – convenient, but not ideal.
Co-locating Greyhound with Intercity Transit simply makes good sense. Merging the two transportation systems at one location would be convenient for passengers and might encourage more people to ride the bus. And that’s good for our overtaxed highway system and the environment.