Department of Transportation sets multimodal hearing

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Georgia Department of Transportation has completed its environmental assessment for a planned multimodal transit station in downtown Albany and has set a hearing for March 17 for public comment.

Erik Steavens, GDOT's director of Intermodal projects, said the assessment is available, and public comment is now being solicited for the project, which will ultimately end in the construction of a $9 million transit facility that he says will be the state's flagship transit station.

"This project will be the state's first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ) Certified transit facility and will incorporate a variety of environmentally and economically-friendly innovations," Steavens said. "We're already receiving calls from people who want to come to Albany to see it when it's complete."

The project, which is largely being funded by federal stimulus dollars and congressional appropriation from U.S. Representative Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, will also be funded by state and local dollars.

More than just a new bus station, Steavens said the facility will house new retail spaces for business and will hopefully be of economic and practical benefit to the people of Albany.

"If you look at this as a whole picture, we'll create jobs through the design and the construction of the building, we'll promote growth through the retail incubators and hopefully create energy downtown," he said.

Critics of the proposal have questioned the location for the center -- the parking lot between Flint Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue -- and the need for building an entirely new center altogether when an existing station could be improved.

Steavens said he's aware of the criticism but that by building a greener, more energy-efficient center, the city will be able to save money on utility costs and will no longer have to pay rent on the facility it's currently using.

"The problem with government funding is that it often covers construction costs but leaves local government to pick up the tab on maintenance and utility costs," Steavens said. "But since we're building this facility to be LEED-certified, the maintenance costs over the life of the building should be lower than they would have been otherwise."

While the final design of the building has yet to be completed, Steavens said it will incorporate things like solar panels to reduce electricity consumption, rain catchers to irrigate plants, and the use of environmentally-friendly building materials.

The project was initially derailed after the Federal Transit Authority rescinded its "Finding of No Significant Impact" following an initial environmental assessment performed by the city of Albany, which the authority said had not been properly completed.

The move was largely prompted by complaints from the public, including one of the center's more vocal critics, John Sherman, who owns several vacant buildings in the area near where the center will be located.

After those issues, most of which dealt with a lack of public comments being included in the study, arose, Steavens said GDOT is encouraging anyone interested to attend planned meetings to learn about the project and give their feedback.