The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority is preparing to build a new transit center that will replace the badly outdated Amtrak station and provide a central point of operation for the local mass transit system. But there are still unanswered questions about the project, particularly for the residents of Liberty Hill.
According to a story by The Post and Courier's Prentiss Findlay, some residents are questioning just what the transit center will mean to their neighborhood and quality of life. And well might they ask, since it will greatly increase traffic.
"This road is too small for those big buses," barbershop owner Kenyatta Nesbit told our reporter. His shop is located on East Montague Avenue near the transit center site.
"Not down this street," said Tina Wright, whose family owns a florist shop on Gaynor Avenue.
The centerpiece of the operation will be a two-story, 33,000-square-foot building, which also will provide rental space for office, retail stores and restaurants. So the traffic won't be confined to those getting to the train station, CARTA buses and other transportation-related uses, including regional buses and taxis.
CARTA has promised the federal agency that is providing much of the funding for the project that it will be built by mid-2016. That is a condition of an agreement with federal transit authorities for receiving $11.6 million in funding for the project.
As it is, CARTA will be required to repay the feds $3.7 million spent elsewhere, because of an error which precluded the use of the original transit center site on West Montague Avenue. Because of an existing rail line, Amtrak couldn't have used that site unless CARTA had been willing to add $25 million to the project's budget.
The rush to complete this project on the fast track should serve as a flashing yellow signal to the community, which will finally have an opportunity to speak on it beginning next month.
One question that everyone ought to be asking is why the Amtrak site is now the best place to build the transit site when it wasn't 15 years ago. Or is the train station merely the most convenient site to build the center, given the timetable that CARTA has to meet to get federal funding?
In any event, CARTA's failure to get the project right at the outset shouldn't drive the current plan to completion without adequate review or full consideration of residents' viewpoints. As residents listen to project officials, they should keep in mind the previous accountability gaps in this long-awaited project.
While there have been repeated promises "to get to the bottom" of exactly how the project got off track at the West Montague site, and who was to blame, there apparently has been no real effort toward that end. Well, it was only a $3.7 million mistake.
Maybe the Amtrak station will be the best site for the new transit center. Liberty Hill deserves to hear why that is so, and how it will benefit the community.
And the CARTA board should be receptive to the neighborhood's recommendations. CARTA's failure to adequately plan for this project in years' past shouldn't now create an emergency for Liberty Hill.