No more questions about CATS push for $90m underground bus station | WFAE 90.7

The Charlotte Area Transit System on Monday gave the city council’s transportation committee its recommendation on how to rebuild the new downtown bus station.

As expected, CATS supported the idea initially proposed by a private developer: placing the bus station underground to pave the way for a new tower with offices, shops and a hotel. Other possibilities are to rebuild the bus station at street level or place it on the second or third floor.

But a careful look at how CATS arrived at this recommendation raises more questions about whether transit agents are neutral information brokers. The city council will vote on a final plan among the three options.

Republican Councilman Ed Driggs, who chairs the committee, said he fears the city is pushing council members toward the outcome they and private developers want.

“I think it’s clear from the presentation that their assessment led them to prefer the outcome of the contest (or underground),” he said.

The question reflects a recurring tension between city council and staff: who makes the decisions, and when does which staff present a fait accompli?

And for the first time, the city detailed the estimated costs of the project: Building a new bus station at street level would cost between $45 million and $55 million. Its underground construction would cost almost 90 million dollars. The public would pay for the project, with funding sources that include land value and federal and local grants.

This is how the bus station would change:

In the bus station today, passengers can wait either in air-conditioned waiting rooms or under a canopy. There are no areas reserved for ticketed passengers. People are free to walk anywhere in the facility, including the area where the buses are parked.

CATS wants a new design in which passengers can only access buses through a centralized, air-conditioned waiting area. With one or two access points, CATS said it can better keep passengers safe by ensuring only people with tickets can enter.

The new bus station would resemble an airport, in that passengers would be in a central hall and then walk through a door to join their bus. (New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal has a similar design.)

In its presentation to council members, CATS said that building the bus station underground or on the second or third floor would enable them to achieve the goals of having better security, better security and an air-conditioned waiting room. .

He said rebuilding the station at street level would not achieve those goals. He also said that building the station at street level would not allow good connections to the Lynx Blue Line and the Gold Line light rail.

But CATS chief executive John Lewis and planner Jason Lawrence gave council members no detailed explanation of why these goals could not be achieved by building at street level. They simply stated that as fact, without elaboration.

WFAE and Transit Time asked CATS: Why couldn’t they take the exact design of the underground bus station and build it at street level, saving $35-45 million?

CATS did not respond.

City officials said Monday that building the station at street level would mean foregoing the larger project with developer, White Point Partners. They said they would like a development agreement to be signed by next year and a new station to open by 2029. There would be a temporary station on adjacent land from around 2024 .

The reality is that CATS could demolish the existing bus station and build a new one on site, without spending millions of additional dollars to dig a hole 50 feet deep in the ground.

CATS could build a centralized bus waiting area at street level. It could be air-conditioned and there could be one or two access points to help with security. Passengers could take an escalator to a bridge that would cross the bus bays. They then took an escalator to get to the waiting room.

The transit system could have seamless connections to the Gold Line streetcar, as well as the light rail line. And the area where buses park and pick up passengers could be largely closed off, so passengers could only enter the waiting area through dedicated access points.

Former CATS General Manager Ron Tober said in an interview that CATS could do all of these things with a new street-level station.

“It doesn’t have to be underground,” Tober said. “This is driven by the private developer. It’s not driven by what’s best for passengers.

Natural light: An odd moment in the presentation is that Lawrence told board members that passengers have said they would like to have natural light in the new facility – an important feature of the current canopy design.

Lawrence then said that the best design is to place the station underground, which makes it more difficult to access natural light.

Driggs said he hadn’t seen the city argue that it was worth spending an additional $45 million to get the station underground.

But most of his colleagues on the transport committee are enthusiastic about the idea. The city council will likely vote on the design early next year.