Almost unnoticed, the list of recommendations released by the GRTC and Transit Study Task Force late last month included a couple of bombshells: One would remove City Council from deciding new routes. The other would reintroduce Main Street Station as a potential site for a new bus transfer station.
The proposal to cut council out of the decision-making process wouldn't be such a big deal — changing or adding routes is somewhat apolitical — except that GRTC's board of trustees would have the final say. That board is made up of six members: three from the city and three from Chesterfield County.
A salvo to otherwise strained regional relations, especially as it pertains to such things as toll roads and buses? Kinda, maybe. City Councilman Jon Baliles, who sits on the task force with fellow council member Michelle Mosby, says it really isn't an attempt to save face after recent regional meltdowns — namely, the city's squelching of legislation to give the counties more seats on the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, which operates the Downtown Expressway system.
But he does want more suburban input.
"There is a desire on the commission and with Michelle and I, to get the counties involved," Baliles says. "I would love to see regional transit. [But] regional transit won't become a priority until the RMA issue is settled."
As for the proposal to build a bus transfer hub at Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom, that was abandoned after GRTC Chief Executive John Lewis departed for a similar job in Orlando, Fla., in 2010. GRTC long has supported building the hub at the train station. Costing upwards of $30 million, it would allow for the creation of a multi-modal transportation depot of sorts — linking trains and buses, for instance, along with bikes and electric cars.
But merchants in the Bottom vehemently opposed the bus station there, and City Hall pulled it off the table not long before Lewis left. The bus hub has been in limbo ever since. Needed to remove the 10,000 or so riders off the street while they wait for the right buses to come through, the hub could be an economic development opportunity, says Stephen McNally, project administrator for GRTC. The list of potential sites has been narrowed to five or six downtown spots during the last couple of years, McNally says, but it seems no one wants it in their backyard.
"That's been kind of the story on this project for a long time," he says of the perpetual delays. As for the reintroduction of Shockoe Bottom? Despite the community angst, McNally says, it's a tip-top site: "In my opinion, it was and still is a good location because of the obvious multi-modal opportunity."