CA: Metro Eyes Upgrade to Watsonville Transit Center

May 15--Watsonville-- Santa Cruz Metro's 'drab' downtown Watsonville transit center is in line for a face-lift, and possibly an expansion.

Though any project is likely years away, Metro officials hope to have designs in hand by October so they can begin to seek grant funds.

Tuesday, they asked Watsonville's City Council how far should they go to explore options.

The consensus: Think big to ensure improvements meet the needs of the future.

"Being a bus driver and an advocate for public transit, we need to add capacity in order to bring more service to the community," said Councilman Eduardo Montesino.

Liseth Guizar, Metro security and risk administrator, told the council that 15,000 people board buses in the Watsonville area every day, and the former bank converted to the transit center in 1995 has suffered from "wear and tear."

"It's been described as a drab location. It's been described as prison-like. That's not really the image we want to portray," Guizar said.

There's too little seating at the Rodriguez Street terminal and not enough cover outside for waiting riders to get out of the sun or rain, she said. People express concern for safety. Set up to handle eight buses at a time, at peak hours, as many as 10 cram onto the tarmac.

Guizar said Metro officials would like to see space for at least 15 buses, about the same capacity as the center in downtown Santa Cruz.

The Watsonville center serves Monterey-Salinas Transit and Greyhound buses, as well as Metro.

Jennie Gervasio, who catches a bus in Salinas every day to visit her mother in Watsonville, stood in a scrap of shade outside the terminal Wednesday afternoon.

"It'd be nice to have a place where you could sit down," she said.

Nancy Rodriguez, a frequent bus rider from Freedom, agreed the center was inadequate.

"Fix it up and make it bigger," she said.

Consultants came up with three options for improvements that would spruce up the center, but not add much capacity. It doesn't make much sense to put money into a project that's outdated from the start, Guizar said.

"If we're going to invest in a project, we want to be able to look into the future," she said.

Guizar said Metro and city staff reviewed downtown properties for a possible relocation, but there were no other suitable sites. So Metro turned its attention to a row of small residential cottages behind the center that could provide the space needed to add bus bays.

The council agreed that Metro should explore acquisition of the homes.

"I have no idea what the owners of the properties think, or if they interested in selling," said Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez. "But the transit district really needs to expand. We need much more public transportation in the South County."

Guizar stressed that Metro is only in the initial phases of planning. An expansion might not be viable, she said.

Still, Councilman Daniel Dodge, who represents Watsonville on the Metro board, sees an opportunity to transform the transit center into a regional hub with service extending beyond Santa Cruz and Monterey counties into San Benito and Santa Clara.

"We could be the gateway to the Monterey Bay," he said.

Copyright 2014 - Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.

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