Loss of the joint bus facility resulted from leadership failure

By Charlie Quimby

The Grand Valley Regional Transportation Committee must feel like it was hit by a bus after its plans for a joint Grand Valley Transit transfer center and Greyhound station near Mesa Mall blew apart early this year.

The idea seemed to make good sense. The new site would better serve the growing west end of the valley and put Greyhound closer to Interstate 70. A combined station operated by GVT would mean more amenities for commuters and a healthy revenue stream to help offset system costs. What’s more, as an “intermodal” facility, it would qualify for up to $2 million in state and federal grants.

In the works since 2008, the project moved through many public hoops and reviews, with hardly a peep of opposition through 2011.

How did things go so wrong, so fast?

Planning and community interests weren’t in sync. Thousands of residents gave input to the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan without showing any concern related to the transfer station. When planners sought specific public reaction to possible site options, only two people showed up. So, it looked like the proposal wasn’t controversial.

However, people interested in growth, transit and public policy were most likely to respond to this outreach. The general public tends to reserve attention until plans affect them directly. As a result, planners heard early on from a supportive community, while neighbors of the ultimate site saw little to engage them.

Market dynamics and regulatory realities complicated site acquisition. After a recommended site was rejected, an attractive new parcel became available that was not included in the original feasibility studies.

However, before the necessary reviews could be completed, a private developer acquired the property. It happened again with land located just south of Goodwill Industries. The committee then moved quickly to secure another parcel.

While the action may have looked hasty, the group was doing its best to stay ahead of a recovering market while doing its due diligence and keeping state funding intact.

Opposition was inflamed by misinformation. Fueled by property owner Joe Coleman’s campaign against the proposed station, neighbors rose up. But claims the new station would introduce crime, lower property values and make the area unsafe for kids were overblown.

Over the past six years, arrests at the current Greyhound station have averaged about one every two and a half weeks. Nearly half the 170 police calls for service to the depot last year requested aid or regarded nuisances. Only 22 arrests resulted in 2011, many of them from high-profile drug interdictions initiated by police.

There’s little reason to believe the activities that occur at a downtown depot would move to a different location. More likely, good station design, management and enforcement would reduce the number of problems even further.

Given the number of crashes or hit-and-run accidents reported at shopping center parking lots last year, local children may be in greater danger walking through those parking lots.

What about property owner fears? Research shows that the market tends to value the access transit brings residents who don’t want to drive to work, school or doctor’s appointments. Just as current residents decided to move near a busy commercial district, there will be buyers who see nearby transit as a plus.

The political climate discouraged leadership. The city and county lost key staffers last year and the Grand Junction City Council turned over, replacing its representative on the Regional Transportation Committee with a newcomer.

Surprised by the outcry, the council had little institutional memory to fall back on. Faced with political heat and no actual authority over the decision, council members chose not to lead on the issue. Greyhound, facing its own competitive challenges, backed off, too.

As the valley grows, we’ll face similar challenges, and we should learn from this lost opportunity. Planners must be more proactive in seeking public participation. Neighborhoods must recognize that getting involved late, without all the facts and then fighting projects, is ultimately costly to everyone. Elected officials can’t simply listen to whoever speaks last or loudest.

Providing quality public services to all and operating more efficiently isn’t simply a matter of doing less and less. It involves being open to new approaches. It requires leadership from our officials. And it begs us all to listen generously to each other, without assuming the worst.

(GVT will be holding an open house specific to the transfer center plan from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. this Thursday, March 8, at the Goodwill Community Room, 630 24-1/2 Road.)

In 2006, Charlie Quimby began a gradual return to his native Colorado from Minnesota, where he owned a marketing business and wrote about public policy for the think tank, Growth & Justice. After adjusting to Grand Junction winters, he’s ready to dip his toe into other parts of the local climate.


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