Bangor committee decides not to change bus hub

People get on a Community Connector bus in downtown Bangor in this August 2013 file photo.
Linda Coan O'Kresik
People get on a Community Connector bus in downtown Bangor in this August 2013 file photo. Buy Photo
Posted Sept. 04, 2014, at 6:43 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor’s bus hub will remain largely unchanged after city officials decided against options contained in a study that were either too expensive or too uncertain to pursue in the immediate future.

The Government Operations Committee decided during a meeting Wednesday night that the city shouldn’t make any major alterations to the Pickering Square bus hub but should keep an eye to the future and not rule out changes, including a potential relocation of the hub.

In April, Tom Crikelair of Bar Harbor-based Tom Crikelair Associates presented the findings of his 100-page study that explored options for the future of the hub to the Government Operations Committee. He suggested the Community Connector’s bus transfer station should stay downtown in Pickering Square, but it could benefit from a move a few hundred feet away from the parking garage entrance.

The bus hub study was launched in response to several concerns, primary among them that the city’s bus service has grown in ridership and outgrown certain areas, including the Pickering Square parking garage. Downtown residents also expressed concerns about emissions and noise pollution generated by the buses, as well as congestion in front of the parking garage.

The study listed other potential options, including a relocation to the Airport Mall or Maine Avenue, but those suggestions met resistance from residents who wanted easy access to bus routes from downtown. Relocation projects also carry significant price tags and, at this point, don’t have any available funding mechanism.

Crikelair’s recommendation was to move the bus hub to Water Street, cutting into a portion of Pickering Square and creating a bus lane to allow buses to pull off the street to pick up passengers.

On Wednesday, the committee decided not to move forward with that option, in part because of its $240,000 price tag and in part because they weren’t convinced the project would resolve congestion and traffic issues in the area. There also was concern that it would interfere more with business at the neighboring Key Plaza.

“We could spend a ton of money and not improve the situation at all, that’s what this comes down to,” said Councilor Pat Blanchette.

The consensus of the committee was that doing nothing, which costs no money, was a better alternative than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a relocation effort that might bring about negative consequences for the bus system.

The council will continue to consider its long-term options, which might include a move to a new venue away from Pickering Square. If the hub were to move away from downtown, there likely would still be a secondary hub or at least multiple bus stops or connections in Bangor’s downtown.

Council Nelson Durgin said the study revealed no “silver bullet” for the bus system and “gave us very little in terms of ways to move forward that would be satisfactory.”

Community Connector’s budgeted expenses for Bangor routes is about $1.7 million, the city’s finance director has said. Its revenues are about $1.3 million raised through advertising, fares and federal and state grants. The city of Bangor covers the remaining gap of about $400,000.

During the next year, city staff will begin crafting a plan for a redesign of outdated Pickering Square, and talk of bus hub changes are likely to re-emerge. The Pickering Square work, however, likely won’t happen until 2016 because the city needs to draft a concept, put it to bid and iron out funding, city officials have said.

In the meantime, the committee asked bus system officials to look into ways routes might be adjusted to decrease the number of buses waiting at Pickering Square at one time, reducing congestion. They also were asked to look into the potential of using smaller buses for some routes.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.

 

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