By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald
Work on the new 7,400-square-foot bus center began Monday in downtown Port Huron with a formal groundbreaking ceremony.
More than 50 people squeezed into a tent in the middle of the South McMorran parking lot to hear officials from the Blue Water Area Transit, the city of Port Huron and Michigan Department of Transportation discuss the project.
“The slow part is over and things are going to start moving quickly now,” said Jim Wilson, Blue Water Area Transit general manager. “We are expecting the whole project to be finished and open before winter.”
Wilson said 75 spaces will be kept open on the east end of the parking lot during construction. While equipment has yet to be moved into the parking lot, Wilson said residential parking will be restricted within the next two weeks, but no sooner than March 23.
The $9.8 million project will also include repaving the South McMorran parking lot, reconfiguring the parking area into three separate lots, and rebuilding Superior Street and McMorran Avenue.
Wilson said a wider sidewalks and new walkways that will cross McMorran Avenue will be added.
“It’s a good central location. It serves the community college, the senior center and our main entertainment complex well. It stays reasonably close to the heart of downtown,” Wilson said.
The project is being funded with a mix of federal, state and local funds with 70 percent from federal funds, 17.5 percent from state funds and the remaining 12.5 percent from the transit agency.
Construction will be handled by DeMaria Building Company — a construction management company based out of Detroit.
Port Huron Mayor Pauline Repp made a few comments during the ceremony.
“It’s been a long time coming since the city council approved the site plan for the bus center,” she said. “This is going to be a wonderful addition with public restrooms and providing shelter for those traveling through the downtown region.”
Officials had their pictures taken at the east side of the South McMorran parking lot next to a box full of dirt and shovels sticking out of it.
One of the Port Huron residents who had their picture taken with shovel in hand was Phyllis Magbanua, who serves as the vice president for the Blue Water League of the Blind.
Magbanua said she rides the bus two to three times a week and attended the ceremony in anticipation of the new bus center.
“If we need to go somewhere special, (the transit authority) is accommodating,” Magbanua said. “They go to places they don’t usually go. When they first started the transit in the 1970s, I was one of the first riders. It was a great help.”
The ceremony comes after the transit commission chose “Blue Water Transit Bus Center” as the official name of its bus center through a combination of suggestions from the community in February.
The center will provide passengers with a heated waiting area, restrooms and bus schedule displays. It will be staffed with maintenance and security staff during hours of operation.
Blue Water Area Transit bought 3.8 acres for the bus center in January 2014. The new transfer center will take up about one quarter of that.
“Our hope is that by transferring here, people will take advantage of some of these businesses,” Wilson said. “In the future, as ridership continues to grow, we hope this is going to become the very center of economic development in Port Huron.”
Businesses located near site felt differently.
Across the street from the ceremony was Gabriele Fusee, office manager for Chef Shell’s Restaurant and Catering at 324 Superior Mall.
Fusee said she does not think constructing a new bus center in the parking lot behind them will go over well.
“It’s a great idea because it is a central location, but I don’t know if it will bring more people to our business,” she said. “The buses are going to be stopping at the other end of the parking lot. Is someone going to walk across the parking lot to get something here and possibly miss the bus? I guess time will tell.”
Krystal West, an employee at Good Fella’s Grill and Sports Bar at 321 Huron Ave., is worried about the rear entrance parking and whether their current customers will be affected.
“I think we will lose parking for our customers in the back. We are limited out front as it is,” she said. “People riding the bus might come more often, but those who drive here might go somewhere else if there are fewer spaces.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 15, 2015)