OH: TARTA Revises Downtown Plan

Aug. 21--Redrawn plans for a new central bus station in downtown Toledo feature a smaller building and eliminate the takeover of a parking lot popular with Valentine Theatre patrons, TARTA's general manager told a Toledo City Council committee Wednesday afternoon.

While a Valentine official stood before council to endorse the scaled-down plan, representatives of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority's main labor union said such a project would divert attention from the transit system's inadequate and shrinking service.

James Gee, the transit authority's general manager, told council's economic development committee that as now proposed, the bus station would occupy two blocks of the eastbound lanes of Jackson Street -- between Erie and Superior streets.

The block between Erie and Huron streets would be used for bus staging, while the station itself would be on the southeast corner of Jackson and Huron -- a three-story building with a bus lane in front of it on Jackson.

The current westbound lanes would be adapted for two-way traffic. The other two eastbound blocks would be converted into two rows of angled parking.

Mr. Gee proposed a land swap in which TARTA would receive the necessary portion of Jackson's right-of-way in trade for land now occupied by the authority's Park station at Erie and Madison Avenue.

Park is one of five stations -- two with enclosed waiting areas -- on the downtown Bus Loop that the transit authority proposes to eliminate.

"Its time has essentially passed," Mr. Gee said of the Loop, which opened in 1982 and has been derided by merchants who contend it drives away business by taking up curbside space along its 14-block route that could be used for parking.

TARTA proposes to move "20 to 30" of its staff to upper-floor offices in the building, while the ground level would include restrooms long desired by downtown bus riders, Mr. Gee said.

Eliminating the bus loop would save the transit authority 40,000 to 45,000 miles per year in bus travel distance, he said.

Matt Sapara, the city's economic development director, said acquiring the Park station site could enhance the redevelopment potential for the adjoining Nasby Building on Madison Avenue.

An initial version of the project unveiled early last year proposed taking over all of the 360-space Reu Park lot in the block bounded by Jackson, Huron, Adams, and Superior streets to build the bus station.

That idea prompted howls from the Valentine and nearby Georgio's Cafe International, whose leaders said the Reu Park lot -- sometimes called the Paramount lot because Toledo's Paramount Theater once stood there -- is preferred by their customers.

"We certainly are in support of this one," Jori Jex, the Valentine's executive director, told council Wednesday about the latest plan. "It's thumbs-up. We're on board."

But Carly Allen, business manager for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 697, said such a station could "turn into a decoration if we don't fix transit funding in Toledo."

Recent rounds of service cuts have left the Toledo bus network with jobs access "worse than Detroit," Ms. Allen said.

She called on council to advocate for replacement of TARTA's property levies -- its primary subsidy source -- with a regional sales tax that would eliminate complaints from suburban communities that they pay too much for buses most of their residents rarely use.

"There has to be a serious discussion about how transit serves this community," Anthony Garland, an ATU international representative, said after the meeting. The proposed station, he said, would be "a pretty building downtown but a transit system that goes nowhere."

TARTA proposed switching to a Lucas County-wide sales tax four years ago, but a prerequisite step to admit Lucas County as a transit authority member community was voted down by the Sylvania Township Board of Trustees and Maumee City Council.

Since then, Perrysburg and Spencer Township have withdrawn from the transit authority, leaving it with seven member communities: Toledo, Ottawa Hills, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Waterville, Maumee, and Rossford. A withdrawal vote is on the Nov. 4 ballot in Rossford.

In response to committee questioning, Mr. Gee said he had no timetable for building the station; efforts to identify potential grant funding haven't begun. He estimated the project's total cost at $12 million, including the street modifications. "If things move smoothly, we could start the traffic improvements as early as next year," he said.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

Copyright 2014 - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

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