Here we go again.
An item on the Lawton City Council agenda for tonight’s meeting will establish a committee to review proposed locations for a permanent downtown transfer center for the Lawton Area Transit System, i.e. LATS buses.
For the past 18 years, since public transportation came to Lawton, buses have used a site near Southwest Fourth Street and B Avenue as a transfer center. The site offers no amenities other than two or three enclosed seating areas. Riders have to wait outside in the heat and the cold for their buses to come.
Recognizing that our bus riders deserve better than that, the City Council has been working on a permanent, indoor site for the transfer center. As a matter of fact, the council has already spent at least $200,000 on studies to select a site. In December 2017 the City Council, acting in its capacity as the City Transit Trust, approved a design contract with C.H. Gurnsey & Company for a transfer center at what is now the police station at Southwest Fourth Street and A Avenue. The police station will be torn down once the new public safety facility is ready and the police station moves into that facility. The agenda commentary for the December 2017 item noted that the old police station “would be the most suitable location.”
Not only has the city already spent a few hundred thousand dollars on studies to select a site, it also has received about $880,000 in federal grants. Those grants are specific to the police station site.
The issue of moving the proposed new transfer center away from the police station first came up in June 2019 when some members of the study committee objected to the site on the grounds that it will be too close to the proposed Farmer’s Market, which will be across the street. Their main objection, as stated at a city council meeting last year, was that the buses will belch their fumes and the area will be too noisy and busy for that location.
But the Farmer’s Market does not operate every day. Since COVID-19, the market has moved its outdoor location to the Cameron University parking lot at Southwest 38th and W. Gore. The market, which was supposed to break ground last month, might be open more days once it has a permanent site, but that remains to be seen.
So now the council will once again consider establishing a committee to review proposed site locations for a new transfer center. That’s fine with us as long as doing so does not cost the city any more money.
These are tight budget times. City employees were given two furlough days at the end of the last fiscal year due to revenue shortfalls attributed to the coronavirus. Now is not the time to be incurring more expenses when a study has already been conducted on proposed sites.
If the study committee wants to review locations, it should remember the previously-selected site was chosen, in part, for its close proximity to certain downtown amenities. It is close to downtown shopping and to the Lawton Public Library, surely popular destinations for some bus riders.
As we pointed out when the issue came up last year, we think the good folks at the Farmer’s Market would be delighted to have buses disgorging passengers across the street from their wares.
Another issue for the study committee to consider is the timing of the bus routes. The routes have been timed for the transfer center to be placed at the old police station. If the center is moved too far from that location, the routes will have to be retimed. It took several months of work to do that the last time the routes were adjusted. Doing so will just incur more expense.
So study the issue all you want, just don’t incur needless expense or choose a site too far from downtown Lawton.