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Transit center coming soon

A new $3.2 million 3,700-square-foot transit center will be built starting this summer on West Seventh Street, behind The Home Depot in The Dalles. Seventh will have to be extended to Chenowith Loop Road, and also widened.

The transit center, operated by Mid-Columbia Council of Governments, should open by summer-2015. It will go on land formerly occupied by a bowling alley that burned down in 1987.

The purpose of the center is to put the Council of Government’s eight-bus fleet under protection, both from the elements and mischief.

Now the fleet sits in the open, unfenced, behind the Oregon State Police field office.

On Jan. 16, The Dalles Planning Commission unanimously approved the Council of Government’s request for a permit to build the center.

The new transit center will house Columbia Area Transit and LINK, and will also likely be where Greyhound buses stop to load and unload passengers.

The initial plans called for picking up and dropping off passengers on Chenowith Loop, in an eight-foot wide bump area designed to accommodate the bus.

But commissioners questioned whether that might lead to a tight squeeze if the commercial bus was in the pull-out and two school buses happened to be heading simultaneously in either direction on Chenowith.

Rather than reconfigure that, the proposal was made to move the drop-off site to Seventh. Buses would turn south on Chenowith off of West Sixth Street, east on Seventh to load and unload, and then head north on Hostetler to leave the area.

The city, Council of Governments, its architect, and the school district will meet to see if moving the drop-off site to Seventh is feasible, given the turning radius needed for the buses.

One neighbor, Elizabeth Helseth, wrote in objection to the proposal, saying traffic was already heavy on Chenowith and school children walking and riding bikes “need some space and non-polluted air to breathe.”

Dan Schwanz, transportation director for the Council of Governments, said the new transit center would not only allow buses be covered and maintained — since an area for light maintenance is planned — but it will also put the currently spread out transportation services of the Council of Governments in one location.

Longstanding city plans to build a parking structure next to the current Greyhound bus drop-off — on First Street downtown – are also a factor.

“We decided it was time for us to move because we ultimately wouldn’t be able to do business there,” Schwanz said of the First Street location.

Schwanz said the Council of Governments is assuming growth in its bus services as the population ages.

The new facility will have a public bathroom and room to house 18 buses, although the fleet has eight buses now, and a park-and-ride lot. The Council of Governments provides services to the whole community, from seniors who no longer drive, to school kids.

“We provide quite a bit of service to school kids whose parents don’t want their kids to walk as far as the school requests them to,” Schwanz said.

The CAT bus service provides fixed-route service to Hood River and Portland and the LINK service provides dial-a-ride service. The Council of Governments also coordinates medical transportation.

John Nelson, chair of the city’s traffic safety committee, said the new transit center would support alternative transportation other than autos and would also provide bike lanes on both sides of Seventh Street.

Seventh Street will be pushed through from Hostetler to Chenowith regardless of where the bus drop-off is located. The siting of the transit center there will trigger a previous agreement signed by Home Depot to make improvements to Seventh Street if development there occurred.

John Arens, the executive director of the Council of Governments, said the agency had been looking for a location for the transit center for four or five years, and had been working on purchasing the property on Chenowith and Seventh for 18 months.

Right now, the Council of Governments doesn’t have an affiliation with Greyhound.

It used to be a ticket agent, but they stopped that service about three years ago because commissions from Greyhound dropped so much, Arens said.

Since then, no local agent has existed, and the trend is for people to buy tickets online.

The Council of Governments will to be able to build at least the bus shelter, administrative building and a parking area with the current $3.2 million federal grant.

Hopes are to at least do part of Phase Two in this construction cycle, which includes a shelter for passengers and a two-bay light maintenance shop. Phase Three would be additional shelter for buses. Phase Four is a larger park-and-ride lot.

The administrative office will house a call center with four people and a dispatcher and operations manager for LINK, plus an office for Schwanz, who splits his time between The Dalles and Hood River.

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