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Bus station plans get green light

The parking lot just behind the Dougherty County Courthouse may be converted to a new multimodal transit center.

The parking lot just behind the Dougherty County Courthouse may be converted to a new multimodal transit center.

ALBANY -- A hurdle that has been blocking development of a new downtown "multi-modal" bus terminal behind the courthouse for more than two years has been cleared, allowing the Georgia Department of Transportation to move forward on the project.

A Finding of No Significant Impact, or FONSI, has been released by federal environmental and transit officials. That paves the way for the project to continue forward, city officials say.

It was the FONSI -- and, specifically, an environmental assessment that was part of it -- that hamstrung the project two years ago when the feds ordered the document to be redone because comments critical of the project that were lodged by property owners around the proposed site weren't included in the final environmental assessment.

With the objections now part of the official record, the feds have issued the FONSI, allowing GDOT and the city to clear a procedural hurdle in the development of the center.

David Hamilton, the city's transit engineer, said that the city and GDOT will now begin working to address the archeological concerns raised in the document by the Creek Nation of Native Americans, who expressed concern that there could be artifacts related to an Indian settlement nearby.

In June, the Albany City Commission voted to join a memorandum of understanding between the Federal Transit Administration, GDOT and the Creek Nation that stipulated that before the site can be disturbed, the city must undertake proper testing for items of archeological significance. The site is in the parking lot near the intersection of Washington Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

"We're talking about doing some archeological digging in spots, using some ground penetrating radar, and other technology to test the area to see if there is anything of significance there," Hamilton said.

If nothing is found, the city can begin the architectural and engineering process of creating schematics and designing the structure itself, which GDOT and the city have said will include space for retail shops and a restaurant or concessionaire.

The project has detractors.

Some are critical of the city and GDOT's choice for the location of the building, saying that it would dramatically reduce parking in a lot that is often used for employee and overflow parking from the Dougherty County Judicial Building.

Others have challenged the validity -- and the very need -- for a brand-new, state-of-the-art bus station in a time when the state is slashing programs and funding.

Hamiliton thinks that the public should begin to see the first semblance of site work at the location within the next six months, with full construction expected to start shortly thereafter.