CDTA reconsiders transit center after years of effort, eminent domain battle

Albany Business Review / The authority has spent years trying to make the $6 million to $8 million bus station a reality.

Photo by Donna Abbott-Vlahos / Albany Business Review

The Capital District Transportation Authority is no longer pursuing its Troy transit center as originally planned alongside the Uncle Sam parking garage.

“Right now there is no plan to do anything at what was going to be the transit center. We have to sort of rethink that,” said CDTA chief executive Carm Basile.

The authority has spent years trying to make the $6 million to $8 million bus station a reality. In January, it won an eminent domain battle against the parking garage owner David Bryce, which allowed CDTA to acquire slivers of land it would need to build the transit center at the corner of Fulton and Fourth streets. The purchase price of the property was $387,000.

CDTA had pursued the condemnation because the authority wasn’t able to reach an agreement with Bryce to buy or lease the land it needed. CDTA was also awarded a $650,000 state grant in December 2015 to build the facility, which was expected to grow busier as a major hub on the new bus rapid transit Blue Line that is opening this fall.

At the time of the eminent domain win, CDTA was tweaking the transit center design and preparing to put the project out to bid.

But now Basile said he’s completely reconsidering his plans for Troy due to uncertainty over the condition and future of the Uncle Sam parking garage.

“The garage is suspect,” Basile said.

A portion of the garage was closed in January to repair loose concrete and water damage after a report deemed certain areas “unsafe.” And new plans filed by Bryce for a $20 million redevelopment of the nearby Troy Atrium call for a “phased demolition” of the Uncle Sam garage, and construction of a new 6-story garage across the street.

“I have to replace the parking before I get rid of it. So I’m chipping away at it,” Bryce said.

Basile said he felt there wasn’t enough cooperation with Bryce to move forward with the transit center, but Bryce said he hasn’t heard from CDTA since the eminent domain proceedings.

“It’s hard to have cooperation without new dialogue,” Bryce said.

Basile said he’s not sure what exactly CDTA will do instead to upgrade transit stations in downtown Troy — an area of tight, one-way streets that is increasingly busy with real estate development.

“If that isn’t in the cards, what might we do? Is there another location in Troy? Or do we stay on the same streets, upgrade what we do and is that efficient?” Basile said.

Meanwhile, CDTA is preparing to begin collecting fares again on its buses, something it hasn’t done since April when it moved to rear-door boarding to protect drivers.

“The intent was never to be fare-free forever,” Basile said.

The authority has lost about $7.5 million in revenue since it paused fare collection. New plexiglass walls are now going up in buses to protect drivers, and with about 90% of riders now wearing masks, Basile said it’s the right time to allow customers to board at the front of the bus and pay their fare.

Ridership across CDTA is still down about 25%, which will leave a signifiant revenue gap for CDTA even with fare collection. But Basile said the $43 million CDTA received from the federal coronavirus relief package is still enough to make up the difference.

The pandemic has helped CDTA in one small way: It’s made it easier and faster to complete the construction along its $42 million bus rapid transit line between Troy and Albany, the Blue Line.

That project is also heavily supported by state and federal grants, and Basile said it should be running by November. It will be the region’s second BusPlus rapid transit line — the existing route along the Route 5 corridor, the Red Line, runs between Schenectady and Albany.

A third BusPlus line is also in the early planning stages, and received a boost in May when President Donald Trump announced via tweet a $60.9 million federal grant for the project.

The total cost of the new transit line is estimated at $81.1 million. The state Department of Transportation has already committed nearly $11 million, or 13.5%. CDTA will pay for the remainder, $9.3 million.

The Purple Line will run along Washington and Western avenues in Albany, offering faster service to popular destinations such as Crossgates Mall, UAlbany and the Harriman State Office Building Campus. It involves building new, bus-only lanes through the Harriman and UAlbany campuses to speed travel on CDTA’s second-busiest route.

“If you could stop less frequently and then for part of that trip have shared or exclusive right of way where you could move along where everyone else is in stop-and-go traffic, that’s the best of all worlds,” Basile said.