The timing was just about perfect.
A TRANSIT HUB FIRST: The Greyhound bus shown above was the first to pick up passengers at the newly constructed Northeast Oregon Public Transit Building at 2204 E. Penn Ave. The local Greyhound stop was formerly located at the Flying J truck plaza. The move to the new facility was completed Saturday. Observer photos/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
Monday at 10:25 a.m., a Greyhound bus pulled up for the first time to the new Northeast Oregon Public Transit Building at 2204 E. Penn Avenue. It let off a couple of passengers and took on a couple more.
A half-hour later, a crowd of about 40 people gathered outside the transit building to watch Frank Thomas, Community Connection’s Union County manager, cut a ribbon marking the official opening.Nobody was happier to see that first bus arrive and that ribbon cut than Donna Wilson, Greyhound’s local agent.
“It’s going to be a lot more convenient for people trying to get to our office,” Wilson said.
For the past several years, Wilson has been doing business for Greyhound in a small trailer at the Flying J Truck Stop, three miles outside La Grande.
It was never a good arrangement, Wilson said. Not only was the bus stop in an isolated place, it was primitive in many ways.
“We didn’t have much space. I had six chairs. When you get six people in there plus all their luggage, everybody’s stepping sideways,” said Wilson, who finished moving the Greyhound office to the spacious new facility Saturday.
Two years ago, Thomas, aided by a host of local officials, landed an $893,000 ConnectOregon I grant to build a transit hub to house both Greyhound and Community Connection’s extensive public transit program.
ConnectOregon I, approved by the state Legislature in 2005, was a $100 million initiative to improve the state’s air, rail, marine and transit infrastructure. The money was distributed to projects throughout the state.
The Union County transit hub cost $1.7 million in all. Other funding sources for the project included Union County, which contributed $10,000, and Island City, which kicked in $2,500.
The City of La Grande waived building fees. Community Connection itself chipped in match money. The Oregon Department of Transportation also was a key supporter, contributing technical assistance to the project from start to finish.
La Grande Public Works Director Norm Paullus designed the building on his own time, free of charge. His contribution reduced costs to Community Connection by between $60,000 and $70,000.
Work by contractor Mike Becker on the 5,000-square-foot hub began last spring and progressed steadily.
Monday, a happy Thomas presided over the grand opening of the hub, which he has called a “one-stop shop” for regional mobility services.
“We’re here to celebrate all those things that can be if only you believe,” Thomas said in some opening remarks.
Community Connection operates a fixed-route bus in La Grande, plus Dial-A-Ride service for seniors and the disabled.
It also provides bus service to and from Pendleton in Umatilla County and Elgin in Union County. In addition, there is twice-a-week bus service to and from Wallowa County.
Asserting that public transit is growing in importance, Thomas noted that Community Connection will provide 80,000 rides this year.
“And remember, we are less than halfway through the projected 20-year lifespan of the program,” he said.
Thomas said the hub is important because it serves as a connection to other transportation services locally and across the region.
“We have multi-modal built in by intent,” he said.
Many of the local public officials who backed the transit hub project from the days of its inception were present at Monday’s ceremony.
Those included Steve McClure, a Union County commissioner who also serves as chairman of Community Connection’s board of directors, and is a member of the Northeast Oregon Area Commission on Transportation.
McClure said one of the main reasons Union County supported the project was to bring Greyhound back to town.
“Bringing that transportation back into the community was what this project was all about,” he said.
He added that the hub would not have been built if not for the strong alliance formed by officials at the city, county and state levels.
“It typifies what cooperation means,” he said.
McClure had some words of praise for Thomas as well.
“He’s the one who proved that a community the size of La Grande can do fixed-route transit,” he said.
State Sen. David Nelson, R-Pendleton, and State Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, also spoke.
Nelson said that with the involvement of Greyhound, the project is a good example of what can be accomplished when public entities and private businesses work together.
“It’s the public-private partnerships that are going to make things go,” he said.
When the state Legislature approved funding for ConnectOregon I, Smith was chair of the transportation budget committee.
Smith said many people called him to urge funding be made available for public transit projects as well as for highway projects. He added that Nelson was instrumental in making sure such projects were included.
Smith also said legislators from both sides of the aisle made ConnectOregon possible. That spirit of cooperation continued in 2007 when the Legislature approved a second round of funding.
“It has bipartisan support and it’s so neat to see the fruits of that,” he said.
Michael Ward, an ODOT administrator, also spoke during Monday’s ceremonies. He added some comments on the ConnectOregon program.
“I believe this (the hub) is exactly what the Legislature had in mind when it created ConnectOregon,” he said. “It supports the multi-modal concept and it’s also important to economic development. It connects employers and employees.”
Other speakers included Mary Jo Carpenter, Community Connection’s Baker City manager; Island City Mayor Dale DeLong; La Grande City Councilor Steve Clements; Frank Reading, ODOT’s Northeast Region manager; and Greyhound Regional Manager Sean Sweeney.
Margaret Davidson, Community Connection’s executive director, delivered closing remarks.
“This is a very proud day for Community Connection. It’s a great service to the public to have Greyhound accessible again,” she said.