TRAVERSE CITY — The hunt is on for a site where Bay Area Transportation Authority can build a new headquarters and operations center.
Kelly Dunham, BATA’s executive director, said the authority is looking for a site close to Traverse City.
Traverse City Housing Commission could also join in on the project to provide housing on-site, a partnership that could net more federal funding.
“We think that it could be really great for residents in our community and provide a unique ability to live near transit and not have to own a vehicle,” Dunham said.
Housing commission Executive Director Tony Lentych said the idea for housing is at the earliest stages and may not come to fruition. But the idea of pairing affordable housing and transportation is intriguing to both parties.
“We’re thinking mostly workforce housing for people who get up and take the first bus into town,” he said.
The authority has outgrown its current facility as it adds more services, staff and buses, Dunham said.
BATA’s recent service increases include adding the Bayline, a free bus route that runs east-west through downtown Traverse City every 15 minutes, with the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority and other sponsors underwriting the fares.
The Leelanau Loop started in mid-2019 and runs from Northport to Leland to Lake Leelanau to Suttons Bay on weekdays.
Rider demand drives that increase in services, BATA Communications Director Eric Lingaur said.
Ridership figures show how that demand keeps increasing, with more people riding BATA buses year over year. The authority gave 591,307 rides from October 2018 through September 2019, compared to 532,667 over the prior 12-month period.
“There’s a cadence between all of those things,” Lingaur said. “Ridership is increasing, service is increasing as well to meet ridership demand, and then as you add more services you need more vehicles to provide that service. They’re all kind of related to each other.”
BATA has been bursting at the seams at its location at Cass and South Airport roads for some time, Dunham said. The authority coped by buying or leasing a handful of adjacent properties, and another a quarter-mile away on Cass Road. That’s where the authority has a warehouse, training facilities and an office.
So the authority’s board of directors formed a subcommittee in early 2019 to explore options for its facilities, Dunham said.
It’s important that the new location be close to the city, because adding more distance to bus routes would increase operating costs, Dunham said — she figures five minutes of driving time for all the authority’s buses combined totals around $30,000 a year.
That limits the number of available lots large enough to site a new facility, but there are some contenders, Dunham said.
“We are seriously looking at a couple different properties right now,” she said.
A number of things need to happen first, including getting Federal Transit Administration funds, Dunham said. The agency awards competitive capital improvement grants each year, and she’s hoping to know before year’s end if BATA’s application succeeded.
BATA has a capital reserve fund that could provide some money from the project but the bulk would be state and federal dollars, Dunham said.
The Hall Street Transfer Station would continue to operate as-is, Dunham said. It’s too soon to say whether the authority would need to retain its facility at Cass and South Airport roads.
“Ideally, we would be in a position to sell this property and have everything consolidated at the new headquarters facility,” she said.