06 Sep Council committee ready to analyze site for new transfer ce…
A City Council study committee is ready to meet with the full council to discuss sites for a new downtown transfer center.
The committee met last week to launch the City of Lawton’s part of the process that will replace the longtime outdoor mass transit transfer center on Southwest B Avenue with a building offering indoor amenities for bus drivers and passengers. But, the committee also indicated support for a larger idea that would give LATS an indoor transfer center, but also one that could become complex to handle maintenance and training.
Hendrickson Transportation Group, which became LATS operational management firm last year, already has been analyzing options for a transfer center site.
That site will be the place where LATS’s fixed routes pass once per hour, with space for waiting passengers and buses. That site now is along Southwest B Avenue on what used to be the south side of Wayne Gilley City Hall. It offers few amenities: two glass enclosures for waiting passengers, picnic tables and a curbed sidewalk with pullout space for buses that arrive on or 10 minutes before the hour.
What supporters have in mind is a building that would provide amenities such as restrooms and a break room for bus drivers, indoor comfort for passengers and services such as bus pass sales. In 2017, the City Council approved an analysis that designated Lawton Police Department for that transfer center, moving onto the site after police personnel move to the new public safety facility. But, Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk said what seemed like a good site in 2017 no longer works because it is a land-locked tract without expansion potential and because it conflicts with plans by Lawton Farmers Market Institute to build an indoor market immediately west of the police station.
LATS Operational Manager Ryan Landers said Hendrickson Transportation Group has been investigating potential sites after settling into operations last summer. He said while the City of Lawton has made clear it wants that site in the downtown area (West Gore Boulevard to Southwest I Avenue, east of South 11th Street), Hendrickson’s analysis also focused on other issues: bus access, cost (does the site have to be purchased, at what cost, what needs to be done to the site, building cost), proximity to Interstate 44, walkability (to include sidewalks), and environmental and historical issues.
Landers said proximity to the interstate is important if city leaders agree there is potential to expand bus service to locations outside Lawton, such as other cities. Landers said LATS’ existing maintenance/office facility in south Lawton used to house the Jefferson Bus Lines, and LATS still was dealing with people asking about bus service a year after Jefferson discontinued service.
“We may look at that,” Landers said.
Burk said that discussion may be worth having at some point, as a means of providing transportation to Oklahoma City and Wichita Falls.
John Hendrickson, president of Hendrickson Transportation Group, said city officials should consider another point: bus service can make an economic impact, helping other businesses in the area grow.
“We want the project to be an economic catalyst,” Hendrickson said, adding some workers — especially younger ones — want the option of taking mass transit to work and that would be an argument for the FISTA technology park that Lawton is planning to house military defense contractors.
Hendrickson also said city leaders need to look at a large concept: a complex that could become a regional bus training and maintenance facility as well as a transfer center.
Burk said LATS and city officials also need to look at the future, considering things such as converting the fleet to alternative fuels. For example, officials noted CenterPoint has a major natural gas main near the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Headquarters on East Gore Boulevard that could serve a CNG (compressed natural gas) station for buses using a downtown site.
Hendrickson and Landers said while the transfer center must be the first piece of the puzzle, city leaders should keep an eye on the idea of finding a larger site that would allow expansion to other uses.
“We need to develop a transit system that is robust, keeping the cost to taxpayers as low as possible,” Hendrickson said.
Landers said Hendrickson Transportation Group has researched properties around the downtown area, to include some in and near Northwest 2nd Street.
“That’s where the citizens want it,” said Ward 1 Councilwoman Mary Ann Hankins said, of a downtown location, adding residents are interested in other services, such as a designated route to the industries in Lawton’s west industrial park.
The first step in the process is anticipated to occur at the City Council’s Sept. 22 meeting. Landers said Hendrickson Transportation Group is ready to present its findings on the analyzed sites, information that must be presented in executive session because it involves acquisition of property. Selecting a site would allow officials to proceed to the next step, design plans.
Existing designs show a $1.3 million project that includes a 1,988-square-foot building encircled by bus pullouts. That design probably will have to be redone to accommodate other plans, committee members said. Based on the committee’s timeline, design plans would take six to nine months to develop, with another six months to a year for construction.
City officials have said they have more than $800,000 in federal funding and another $2.5 million available through the City of Lawton’s Capital Improvement Programs.