The Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) is purchasing a tract of land along Highway 50 that will serve as a smaller version of the transit center the RTA proposed last year.

Last week, the organization entered into a contract to purchase the vacant lot at the corner of Hwy. 50 and Pine Street next to Safeway for $800,000. The organization plans to build an “enhanced” bus stop on the site, near the current bus stop. The final product will be similar to the north bus stop at the Crested Butte 4-Way, with additional office space for RTA administration and dispatch. RTA plans to begin construction in the next two years.

While some members were uneasy about the price tag — which was nearly $1 million for an empty lot — the RTA board of directors unanimously approved the purchase during a regular meeting on Friday, June 28. The RTA has been working with the city of Gunnison to select a site and will meet with the City Council on July 9 to begin the planning process. Closing is scheduled for July 15.

“The location is perfect,” said Janet Farmer, president of the board. “It’s a lot of money, but I think it will pay off in the long run for us and the services we can provide.”

The RTA originally selected the southeast side of the Gunnison Rec Center as its “preferred location” for a $3.5 million transit center — a centrally located bus stop with restrooms and shelters, offices and space for passengers to transfer to other transit lines such as the Bustang. Motivated by overwhelming community opposition, the City of Gunnison rejected that proposal last spring. Residents were concerned about increased traffic, loss of field space and limited parking. As of November, the Gunnison transit center has been shut down.

But when the RTA reviewed its new strategic plan, designed to evaluate public transportation needs and refine bus routes, officials realized there were only a few empty lots available along Highway 50. The RTA also had a $1 million grant from the state that it planned to use to build a public transportation center that would likely expire.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has notified the RTA that it can use the purchase price of the land as local consideration for the project. This means that if the RTA can build the bus stop for $1 million or less, the only money spent would be to purchase the land, RTA Director Scott Truex said in a memo to the board. The grant money became available this month.

Despite the high upfront costs, Crested Butte Mayor and Board Member Ian Billick said he supported the contract.

“I can’t imagine it’s going to be any cheaper,” Billick said. “So if we need a facility, I don’t see that we’re better off waiting, either location-wise or cost-wise.”

At approximately 12,000 square feet, the building will be half the size of the transit center originally planned for the Rec Center. While similar in design, the biggest difference at the Hwy. 50 location is that there is less space for parking. The RTA has also considered properties near the Gunnison Country Chamber of Commerce and the Sinclair Gas Station.

Existing city zoning allows the RTA to build an improved bus stop with restrooms and office space. Adjustments will need to be made to allow the agency to bring in other bus routes, such as the Bustang, in the future — a feature of many other transit centers. The city is actively updating its land use regulations, so this conversation will continue as more project details emerge.

According to feedback from an ongoing RTA survey, as well as recent open houses in Gunnison and Crested Butte, some of the community’s top criteria for a transit center location were that it be near a grocery store, the freeway, and downtown Gunnison, and have minimal impact on residential neighborhoods. Residents also wanted real-time information about buses arriving at the waiting area.

The amenities that the RTA considers “must haves” are restrooms, a waiting area for passengers, and space for multiple buses to stop at the building. The board, in collaboration with the city council, will also consider space for a food stand (similar to the hot dog stand often found at the 4-Way), an information desk, Wi-Fi, and phone charging stations.

(You can contact Bella Biondini at 970.641.1414 or [email protected].)

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