Amid safety concerns, metro's Ground Transportation Center plans nearly $2 million renovation
FARGO — With safety hazards mounting, the Metro Area Transit Department is planning an almost $2 million renovation of the downtown Ground Transportation Center.
The building, which will be 35 years old next year, has flooring that is buckling.
There are other pedestrian safety concerns with the city's fleet of buses forced to back up from the center, causing worries about pedestrians walking behind them. In the renovation, the lot would be redesigned to allow buses to pull straight through. Approximately 16 buses pull through the GTC every hour .
Additionally, A ssistant City Transit Director Matt Peterson said the brains of the downtown center —the dispatch center — needs to be relocated to improve visibility to 360 degrees to monitor the activities in and around the center.
Although its an expensive project, a grant from the North Dakota Department of Transportation for almost $1.6 million could help with the cost, leaving the city's share at about $350,000.
At the last Fargo City Commission meeting on Dec. 17, commissioners delayed accepting the state grant and also rejected a single bid for architectural work on the renovation.
Peterson said more than one bid is required by the Federal Transit Administration for work on the transit center.
Commissioner Tony Grindberg also expressed concerns about the future location of the center and wanted to make sure all city departments were on the same page. A study completed last week stated that the current location at 502 NP Avenue is best suited if a new structure is eventually needed.
Peterson said the study looked at 10 to 12 potential locations in the downtown area, but concluded that keeping the GTC at its current location is best due to concerns about the cost of new land. The NP Avenue location also keeps the GTC as close to Moorhead as possible, as the city across the bridges, Dilworth and West Fargo are all partners in the metro bus system.
As riders on the bus system grow, Peterson said another reason for the renovation is the increased number and size of buses needed.
In 2007, ridership was only about 800,000 per year, but it has been steadily growing to about 5,000 to 7,000 riders per day or nearly 2.2 million for the year.
About half of those daily riders pass through the GTC, Peterson said. The last renovation on the center happened in 2004.
Also in the discussion stage is a request from Jefferson Lines to again use the GTC as its metro bus stop. Peterson said Jefferson Lines would like room for a ticket counter and storage space. Jefferson Lines is also working on a grant to help with that relocation project.
As for the overall $2 million GTC project, if approval is granted by the city commission in January, construction could start in the spring, Peterson said.
However, there are other concerns with the GTC complex, which also includes the city municipal court building and a 185-vehicle parking garage below that is connected by an elevator.
Although the garage is operated by the city's parking department, it's interconnected in many ways with the GTC and was part of a engineering study that made numerous suggestions for improvements to all three facilities.
A key part of the 2016 study was a failing structural beam in the parking garage. Peterson said about $700,000 is set aside in the 2019 city budget to repair it. City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn called the beam issue "a public safety" concern and an emergency.
Also recommended in the engineering study was installing drain tile around the perimeter of the parking garage and GTC. That would help prevent seepage that is evident on several of the walls in the parking garage and is causing some structural concerns. Peterson said that is likely slated for the 2020 budget.
And yet another area of concern is the funding for the work in the GTC and the parking garage.
The area is part of a tax increment financing (TIF) district that also includes the Island Park parking ramp on Main Avenue.
At the last city commission meeting, commissioners voted to keep the district operating, with no end date, to help with the repairs as well as to purchase the land under the Island Park ramp that is now being leased from the Bank of the West and Wells Fargo.
The banks expressed a willingness to sell the land a year early in 2019 for $1.19 million. But the city appraised the land at only $728,625. A previous lease agreement calls for the land to be purchased by the city from the banks in 2020.
Thus, with more negotiations to come, the vote was 4-1 to delay the closing of the TIF district, with City Commissioner Tony Gehrig opposed. He wanted to see the TIF closed because he said it hurts taxpayers by taking money away from schools and the county when tax dollars are funneled into city coffers to pay for improvements.
Besides the Island Park ramp land purchase, a new camera system is also planned for the ramp.
The city commission also directed city planners to have a report prepared in a few months on all of the city's approximate 20 TIF districts.
Meanwhile, the TIF will help pay for the GTC and parking garage renovations and repairs, although some recommended in the engineering study have been completed already.