A decision on where the city bus system will build its long-anticipated transfer station finally may be on the horizon.
The GRTC Transit System has planned to turn Main Street Station into its transfer hub, saying it will allow easier access to train riders and alleviate unsheltered waiting along Broad Street. But it seems increasingly likely the transfer center will land elsewhere.
“I think they will probably hear in a couple weeks as to the location,” City Council President Kathy Graziano says. “I think that there are at least three sites, including Main Street Station being looked at, and it's just a matter of what's going to work best.”
The two other proposals are removed from Shockoe Bottom: between Sixth and Seventh on Grace Street and at Seventh and Marshall streets. Both are confirmed as potential backup sites by GRTC.
The system's idea was first floated last March at the height of the debate over Highwoods Properties' proposal to build a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom, just north of the 17th Street Farmers' Market. GRTC completed a $2 million preliminary study on the Main Street Station site in the summer and received $12 million from the federal stimulus package for construction.
But the city has yet to approve the plan.
In a draft policy brief dated March 22, city economic development officials propose an alternative site for a GRTC hub in the central business district, citing “unresolved” concerns with the Main Street Station proposal — namely it's higher cost, upward of $73 million, and compatibility with the area.
Last week, Richmond's economic development department accepted final bids from consultants studying how best to revitalize Shockoe Bottom. In its request for proposals, the city says consultants must take into account ongoing work to expand the proposed slave trail, which runs throughout the Bottom, and efforts to bring high-speed rail to Main Street Station. The request, however, makes no mention of a bus transfer station.
“I still believe strongly that Main Street Station is the best place for the transfer center,” says GRTC's Chief Executive John Lewis. “We still have money. We're still ready to go. It's just that the new administration has other priorities for the area.”
Some merchants in Shockoe Bottom are against the plan, saying the increased bus traffic would be bad for business. Other civic activists worry the transit hub might overshadow a future slave memorial nearby, particularly efforts related to the Lumpkin's Jail site. Although Main Street is Lewis' first choice, he says a transfer center is critical to the vitality of the bus system.
“GRTC will never reach its full potential if we leave 10,000-plus people standing on street corners waiting for the right bus to come by,” Lewis says.