TBTA seeks new $7.5M transit facility

ALPENA – Officials with the Thunder Bay Transit Authority are seeking a site for a new $7.5 million transit facility, and they have until fall to complete a deal.

If they don’t, the money could go elsewhere, Prell Services general manager Billi Edmonds said Tuesday. She oversees operations of the Thunder Bay Transportation Authority and Dial-a-Ride.

The site also has to meet neighborhood approval, and the board won’t reveal its wish list of properties until its 3 p.m. meeting Monday. The session will be held at 3020 US-23 South.

A $15,000 feasibility study of the operating facility was done by DLZ of Lansing in June 2011, and the present depot location outside the city’s southern gateway has been ruled out. Built in 1952, the building, which also houses a wrecker service and several social agencies, contains only 30,000 square feet of space, and buses must be parked outdoors.

“It was utimately determined that there were obstacles that precluded us from developing that site,” interim City Manager Greg Sundin said. “It was not for lack of trying.”

Sundin said he couldn’t be specific about sites yet, because of a conflict of interest – he is president of the TBTA board.

Momentum for a new transit facility began in the summer of 2011, when the authority applied for and received a competitive grant from the State of Good Repair Fund. Of the 11 transit systems in Michigan, Alpena was the only one in a rural area, and was thriving.

If everything falls into place, the money from the Federal Transportation Administration and the Michigan Department of Transportation will pay for a modern, energy-efficient structure that improves services and offers amenities to the public, officials said. The project also would create more construction jobs in the area.

Edmonds said the ideal site would consist of 10 to 15 acres of land, be located close to bus riders and routes, and have easy on and off access to main roadways. The site also would have to meet other requirements on environmental impact, wildlife, flooding and historical structures.

“Public transportation is important here because it’s economically feasible and so many in our community are struggling to make ends meet,” Edmonds said. “We can provide a safe and affordable alternative to owning a car.”

If built, the facility would provide indoor storage for 45 vehicles, offer public parking, and provide high-ceiling maintenance bays and a pit or lift for inspection and repairs. It also would contain offices and meeting space for staff.

Edmonds said authority buses, including Dial-a-Ride, made 130,000 trips in 2012, covering more than 160,000 miles. In January, drivers made 800 trips to Walmart alone.

Anyone can use the service in a three-county area that includes Montmorency and Alcona, especially the elderly and disabled, she said. Trips are best scheduled in advance, especially to outlying areas.

The city also will create a fix-route bus service in Alpena with hybrid vehicles picking up riders at designated spots on a schedule.

“We’re successful because we have a good relationship with the community – it’s our family,” Edmonds said. “Our ridership is an extended family for our employees.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693.