New transport facility still facing uncertainty

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, August 21, 2011

The train finally has a new station to pullinto, but who’s going to be there to greet the passengers?

    After more than 10 years in the making and an unknown number ofhiccups and headaches during development, Brookhaven officialsearlier this week dedicated the city’s new transportationfacility.

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    The transportation facility began as the “brainchild” of formerMayor Bill Godbold, for whose family it has been named, andcontinued through the administration of Mayor Bob Massengill andhas reached its opening point under Mayor Les Bumgarner.

    While nice and modern, the facility that has been built is a farcry from what was initially envisioned by Godbold. His ideasincluded creation of new retail space in the area around the city’sold Power Plant building, parking garage possibilities and even acollegiate sports hall of fame.

    To fund that grandiose vision, the city was able to secure up toaround $5 million in federal appropriations. However, questionsabout transportation-related usage, city matching fund requirementsand maintenance and upkeep costs – many of which were neveranswered by city leaders at the time – and design uncertaintieskept the project from picking up any steam in moving forward.

    Ultimately, the project began to be scaled back toward what wasactually unveiled Wednesday. With other project elements abandoned,aldermen under Massengill opted to release back to the federalgovernment around $4 million that had been set aside for thefacility.

    City leaders continued to press on toward transport hub reality,but other issues lingered. Dock height concerns and dock lengthissues were among the last to finally be resolved.

    Even though the facility is now open, a question remains over whowill operate it.

    Bumgarner said the city is taking responsibility for opening andclosing the facility while a lease with Amtrak is beingnegotiated.

    Under the lease terms, Amtrak would staff someone at the facility30 minutes before and after every scheduled train stop. Cityleaders, though, have indicated no urgency in finalizing a leasewith Amtrak.

    Resolution of that issue and how the city will otherwise utilizethe facility represent important items that should be addressedquickly by the board of aldermen. Otherwise, it will simply be moreuncertainty for a project that has traveled the tracks ofuncertainty to its current reality.