Our Views: Take chance to tour Janesville's new transit center

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Exactly what did $7.9 million buy us?

On Wednesday, curious and frustrated Janesville residents alike will get chances to see. That’s when the city plans a dedication and open house, complete with free tours and refreshments, of its new Transit Services Center at Highway 51 and Black Bridge Road.

Some residents consider it extravagant. It’s more than a bus garage, however, because it also will house the transit system’s administrative offices. Still, critics see the 40,000-square-foot building as a symbol of government excess when many residents are still reeling from the recession. Federal money paid $6.6 million of the total, but critics note that it’s all tax money and think the project took them for a ride.

The transit center and plans for a new $8 million fire station have become lightning rods. They prompted petitions that might require the city to seek permission through referendum for any project costing more than $2 million.

Among criticisms we’ve heard: Why must the transit center house all 17 buses indoors when much of Van Galder Bus Co.’s larger Janesville fleet sits outside? Why does it need an indoor wash bay and refueling station and not one or two but three maintenance lifts? Why spend more to fortify the building just in case the city someday sinks $2.5 million more into a fuel system using explosive natural gas? Did the facility need to be so attractive?

The latter point can be argued. Transit Director Dave Mumma says colors and designs were chosen to match those of the downtown bus station, an attempt at “branding” the transit system. It’s understandable that neighbors didn’t want a staid, institutional-looking building on that corner. Highway 51 remains a gateway to the city. An attractive city building can send the message to visitors and developers that Janesville values quality. Those complaining about the design likely would have harped had it been ugly.

As far as inside amenities, residents can get up-close looks Wednesday. An advertisement in today's Gazette said tours run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. That was disappointing to read, given that many residents have day jobs and must work, after all, to help pay property taxes and the growing list of rising city fees.

Quizzed about that, however, Mumma said people stopping in after work, as late as 5 p.m., could still get a tour. Residents arriving later than that might be in the way of buses returning from the day’s rounds.

In celebration of Wednesday’s event, the city will offer free bus rides all day. Transit officials encourage people who’ve never ridden a bus to hop aboard. That’s nice. Perhaps we’ll see fewer of those big green and white buses rolling around empty except for drivers.

Those empty buses leave residents who have no need for rides thinking the transit system is a giant waste of money. They ignore that public transportation is vital for low-income residents and those with disabilities to reach grocery stores, doctor appointments, jobs, etc. They forget that students will fill buses once the school year begins.

It’s easy to sit back and take potshots without having the full picture. Every resident who has time should take the opportunity for a tour Wednesday.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper’s editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.

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