A Cherriots bus at the Downtown Transit Center. (Courtesy of Cherriots)
Bus riders hoping for a new transit center in south Salem may be in for a wait — if one comes at all.
Cherriots’ planned South Salem Transit Center, a proposed hub for buses at the corner of Commercial Street Southeast and Baxter Road, has lost $1 million in state grants after the window to spend the money closed.
On Monday night, agency staff and its board of directors met to talk about other options. Ideas included building a scaled-down version of the center or building a network of bigger bus stops in the area.
But the agency isn’t officially ending its plans for the center yet, said Steve Dickey, director of transportation development for the Salem Area Mass Transit District.
“We didn’t really get a specific, focused direction from the board, but what I took away from that was that there wasn’t any one thing the board expressed concern over,” he said. “I would consider, at this point, any and all of those things are still on the table.”
Staff and board members also talked about whether Cherriots should look at other sites for a transit center and whether there are any partnerships available with ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft, according to board member Kathy Lincoln.
Because the meeting was a work session, the board made no official decisions.
Lincoln said discussions at the meeting revolved around "stepping back" from earlier plans, which included acquiring part of the parking lot that belonged to the Walmart on Commercial Street. But she added that the Walmart site "would likely be a part of the south Salem strategy in some form."
Dickey said the staff would present firmer ideas to the board in April or May.
Most of those ideas, however, would be a shift from the Cherriots’ recent plans.
Since 2015 the agency has hoped to build the hub on the Walmart parking lot, an idea that the Arkansas-based retailer resisted. Negotiations have not led to a deal. The agency does have board approval to take the property via eminent domain, but it has not done so.
Meanwhile, deadlines for the state dollars approached.
The Connect Oregon grant uses lottery dollars for transportation projects from bike trails to airport improvements. Cherriots landed the $1 million grant in 2015, starting a clock to spend it.
“We are not able to get the full set of funding to get the complete project out,” Dickey said. Even if they acquired the property, he said the agency still had to design and build the property by September 2020. “We knew we would not able to complete that project. We contacted Connect Oregon. We have cancelled that grant agreement.”
As envisioned, the South Salem Transit Center could have been a hub for up to five buses at a time and been a major connector for the city’s growing south sector.
Lincoln said taking a step back could provide a fresh perspective for the area. She noted how it has changed, with the emergence of ride-hailing services and an imminent deluge of workers at the Amazon warehouse in the Mill Creek neighborhood.
“Maybe this is a good chance to say ‘Oh yeah, with a lot of things that have happened in the last few years, maybe our original plan wasn’t the best one,’” she said.
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