SCHENECTADY -- Plans for a new Capital District Transportation Authority transit center on lower State Street are starting to move forward.
The CDTA board on Wednesday voted to hire an architecture and engineering firm for $270,000 to develop plans for a full enclosed transit center next to Gateway Plaza, where buses for the BusPlus rapid transit route to Albany now marshal along the side of the street, next to a bus shelter.
Potentially, the center and the new Amtrak station a few blocks away could make it easier and more comfortable for people traveling to and from downtown Schenectady, which has been undergoing a decade-long revitalization.
The plans may incorporate replacing the deteriorated Adirondack Trailways bus station next door, creating a CDTA transit center that could also be a base for inter-city bus operations. Most likely, the existing bus station would be demolished and replaced with something new.
As envisioned, a CDTA transit center would offer a small indoor waiting area as well as restrooms for customers and employees.
The initial study and design work is to be done by Sowinski Sullivan Architects of Sparta, New Jersey, which specializes in mass transit passenger station work. CDTA officials said four firms were interviewed for the work, which includes planning, design, construction support and coordination among all the parties involved.
The stop near Schenectady County Community College is the location of about 800 CDTA boardings per day, making it the eighth-busiest stop in the CDTA system. The recent $2 million expansion and renovation of Gateway Plaza -- formerly Liberty Park -- included roadway improvements to give buses a safer pull off, and replacing the previous CDTA bus shelter.
The Trailways station, meanwhile, has ceased most functions due to deterioration, and is no longer staffed, though Trailways and Greyhound buses still pick up and drop off passengers there. Trailways has been part of discussions about building a transit center, said CDTA CEO Carm Basile.
CDTA officials said they've been talking to city officials and the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority since 2017 about developing a transit center there.
"We'd like to see something small, something closer to the street for urban design, so it can serve CDTA and Trailways and Greyhound," said Ray Gillen, chairman of Metroplex.
He said Metroplex has studied the practicalities of demolishing the Trailways building, but no decisions have been made, and is isn't yet clear what role Metroplex will play.
Gillen said a CDTA-operated transit center would be good for the city.
"The goal would be a small but new and improved station, up on the street, that really complements the redevelopment that's going on in that area," Gillen said. "We'd like to improve on the status quo, and right now the status quo is an older station that isn't staffed."
It isn't clear how quickly anything will happen. A cost estimate hasn't yet been developed.
"We have to work with several partners in order to advance this," Basile said at this week's CDTA board meeting. ""Am I optimistic? Yes. But a calendar is not available."
Corey Bixby, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local representing CDTA employees, said drivers hope the center is built quickly, since they need places to take breaks between routes.
The transit center would be in a section of downtown that has been going through redevelopment, including the current construction of new commercial/residential buildings in the Mill District, just east of the bus stop. It is also about three blocks from the new Schenectady Amtrak station that opened in October.
CDTA doesn't have any transit centers now, but it has at least a concept for transit centers in all three of the Capital Region's major cities.
CDTA is currently pursuing an eminent domain case to acquire property for a transit center in downtown Troy, but Basile said that once the land is acquired, that project is ready to go to construction bid.
There's also a conceptual plan for a transit hub in downtown Albany, at the site of the current Greyhound station, but those plans can't progress without a land-acquisition agreement.
Basile said developing transit centers would be good business for CDTA.
"The customer experience is first and foremost, we want to elevate the customer experience and then improve and upgrade the image of mass transit," Basile said.