TCAT’s proposed location for a new facility
Warren Road @ Cherry Road, north of Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport
Artist’s rendering of what TCAT’s new home might look like
TCAT is privileged to serve a community that embraces public transit.
We are even more fortunate that we transport a diverse set of riders who are highly engaged and quite vocal in calling for more and better service. This is critical as Tompkins County transportation needs are changing and growing. Community support is imperative if we are to meet these demands.
Relocation is also a necessary step if TCAT is to sustain and grow a system that has proven to be one of the more substantial of its size in North America. In the past 15 years, TCAT’s ridership increased nearly 37 percent to what is now 4.2 million annual boardings.
TCAT is bursting at the seams at 737 Willow Ave., which has been our home and that of our paratransit provider Gadabout Transportation Services, Inc., since 1992. TCAT’s local funders – Cornell University, the City of Ithaca, and Tompkins County – municipal and organizational comprehensive plans and, most importantly, our dedicated riders have been asking for more and better service and amenities. To achieve these goals, we need a bigger and more sustainable fleet; our aim is to have an entire fleet that is electric-battery powered within the next two decades.
The TCAT Board of Directors and TCAT staff spent more than a year analyzing possible locations for a future TCAT facility. As required by the Federal Transit Administration — potentially the project’s biggest funder — TCAT enlisted a consulting firm, Wendel, to take on the intensive task of examining what amounted to be 22 different locations in a county with varying degrees of topography.
After careful consideration, the TCAT board in December 2019 selected a three-parcel 19.2 acre site cordoned by Warren Road, Cherry Road and Warren Drive, near Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport. Two of the sites’ parcels are owned by Cornell and the other is owned by the county.
This project is in its early stages with years of hard work ahead. As with all decision making, there are tradeoffs with many pluses and minuses to consider. Rest assured, we will be coming out with a lot more information for the community to examine as we move forward.
For the duration of the project, the TCAT board and staff will provide answers to the questions we have gathered so far and will continue to collect from our riders, stakeholders and our community as a whole.
Here’s what we have so far and we ask that you refer to TCAT’s Strategic Plan to review our blueprint for the future, which clearly spells out TCAT’s need for a larger facility.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Why do you need a new facility; what’s wrong with the current site?
- SPACE: TCAT has outgrown its current 52,000- square- foot facility, which has been located on 2.5 acres at 737 Willow Ave., since 1992. A site selection study concluded by our consultant, Wendel, calls for at least 10 acres of land and a facility in the 138,000- to 168,000 square-feet range to meet our current and future needs. At present, our Willow Avenue facility is constrained by at least 25 percent and we are forced to house part of TCAT’s 55-bus and Gadabout’s 30-bus fleets outside in the elements. As we plan to acquire electric-battery buses we will also need room for their charging stations.
- Our mechanics need more bus lifts to work on our fleet to meet efficiency protocols; our bus operators have little space for much-needed down time during breaks or in between shifts; our dispatchers operate out of a cramped office; and our administrative staff has more people than office space. Interns are parked out in the hallways.
- GROWTH: Ridership is conservatively estimated to increase by 20 percent over the next two decades. This means a need for more space for everything, including buses, maintenance bays and office space.
- LOCATION: The current 5-acre site TCAT shares with the city’s Department of Public Worksis “land-locked” by an active railroad track. This impedes bus service, a problem exacerbated when there is nearby construction. Only one street connects TCAT’s current facility to the rest of the road network compromising our ability to respond in the event of an emergency.
Q. How much will this cost?
The latest estimate for building a new facility at the airport site is approximately $55 million. That is compared to the estimated $27 million cost of renovating the Vanguard complex, 17 Hallwoods Road, which was the remaining other site finalist for this project. As we noted before, these are just estimates. These costs are subject to change given fluctuations in property acquisition, planning and construction costs.
Q. How long will it take?
Rough estimates are somewhere between three to six years. It all depends on a number of variables, especially because we are a publicly funded organization. Our plans hinge on our ability to secure public dollars and yet-to-be determined timelines for environmental, architectural and construction work.
Q. Why did TCAT choose a location with an estimated cost of $ 55 million when they could have chosen a one estimated at $27 million?
There are many benefits to building a new facility that is specifically tailored to transit operations, including the potential for significant operational cost savings over time. The cost estimates provided are for construction/renovation only, and do not take into consideration any potential environmental contamination, which was a large concern for the lower cost location due to its previous industrial use. Environmental cleanup can be extremely costly and time consuming to mitigate, with the potential to delay projects by several years.
Q. How will you pay for this and how will taxpayers be impacted?
To minimize local costs, we expect that up to 80 percent of the new facility will be funded by federal grants, which communities all across the country compete for to improve their transportation infrastructures. TCAT hopes to receive a share of the federal dollars set aside to improve transportation services for many communities all across the United States. Of the remaining costs, we figure 10 percent or more will be covered by New York state grants with the remainder coming from local sources.
It’s important to note here that we currently lose money due to deferred maintenance. When mechanics are hindered by space and working with too few bus lifts, the work must be outsourced to meet demand. We could spend more than $3 million over the next couple of years in deferred maintenance alone.
Q. Will bus fares increase to help pay for the new facility?
No. There are no plans to increase the cost of riding a TCAT bus to pay for the facility. Generally speaking, increasing fares is a last resort for public transit agencies as they have a negative impact on ridership, which in turn, can reduce revenue.
Q. How is TCAT engaging federal and state leadership to win support?
TCAT is making every effort to make a compelling case before federal and state decision makers, and our stakeholders have already been to Albany to share how our community’s transportation needs. We are planning more trips to the state capital and Washington as well to talk seek backing from lawmakers and policy makers. Additionally, we are researching every grant opportunity that becomes available.
Q. How come we’re just hearing about this now?
The underlying conditions that support a facility expansion have been becoming more and more evident over the past decade. TCAT has kept its local underwriters, Tompkins County, Cornell University and the City of Ithaca, up-to-date with our situation as did TCAT General Manager Scot Vanderpool, shown left, giving TCAT board members a tour of TCAT’s maintenance area.
However, it is only since mid- 2017 that TCAT staff and Board of Directors were able to dedicate time to explore opportunities for expansion. Through 2018, this work was primarily internal to TCAT in order to clearly define our needs and options. Our focus in 2019 was to determine a preferred site with the assistance of external consultants and with input from of our local underwriters. On Feb. 10, TCAT gave the first formal project update of the year to about 30 representatives from the three local funders with the certain promise of many community-wide discussions to come given the project’s magnitude. TCAT staff shown right, answering their questions (R-L) are Vanderpool, Megan Pulver, facility project manager, Matt Yarrow, assistant general manager in charge of planning, and Rick Andrascik, controller.
Q. Will TCAT need more office staff, drivers and mechanics at a new facility?
In addition to a bricks-and-mortar expansion, we will also need to increase our staff of bus operators, maintenance crew, custodians and administrative staff as our ridership grows. TCAT is on a path to become a cutting edge, data-driven transportation provider, and to maintain high levels of service we will need to be staffed accordingly.
Q. Did TCAT consider building a new facility downtown?
Yes. TCAT would have greatly preferred to be located close to downtown where much of the TCAT service is centered. However, the amount of space needed for a new facility to sustain TCAT’s current and future operations requires roughly a 10-acre parcel of land. Even if TCAT were to obtain and combine multiple parcels, there are very few locations with this amount of space available within city limits that are compatible with our land use requirements.
Q. Will this have an impact on my bus route or level of service?
No, this will not have any direct impact on bus routes other than the potential for more service.
Q. Will this facility provide better opportunities to support electric buses and electric bus infrastructure?
Absolutely. We will need additional space for infrastructure that will support battery-electric buses and overnight charging, as well as additional space for battery-electric fleet maintenance.
Q. Will a new facility be environmentally friendly enough to achieve such certifications as LEED Platinum or at the very least Gold?
We don’t yet know what type of environmental certifications we will receive, but we plan to construct a highly sustainable facility, one that will adhere to these rigorous standards as much as possible with the resources that are available.
Q. What sort of community outreach will take place regarding what the public wants in a new facility and routes?
As the project progresses, TCAT will seek community input through a series of informational meetings, some which may be included in regularly scheduled meetings, events or assemblies. These will be announced on signs on all of our buses and key shelters; alerts on our website; and press releases that will be sent to local media, organizations and listservs.
The new facility discussion is largely independent of bus schedules or where our bus routes travel. Our service is largely built around housing patterns, job and service centers, and demonstrated demand for transit service. These conditions will not differ with a change in facility location. Members of the public interested in TCAT’s routes and schedules should also stay tuned for the upcoming Transit Development Plan (TDP) – a consultant-led process involving significant public outreach. The TDP will kick off in the first quarter of 2020.
Project mentioned in the media
Public Meeting Dates: To be announced