On behalf of the TCAT Board of Directors, TCAT General Manager Scot Vanderpool and his staff, I am responding to the Ithaca Voice letter to the editor “$52 million TCAT proposal too costly” (Jan. 8, 2020) as requested by its author Jason Evans.
As both a TCAT board member and the chair of its planning committee, I thank Mr. Evans for making good points about our site selection process. I hope to reassure him and our community by explaining the steps we have taken and will continue to take moving forward.
Relocation is a critical step for TCAT if we are to sustain and grow a transit system that has proven one of the more robust of its size in the country with 4 million annual trips. As with all decision making, there are tradeoffs with many pluses and minuses to consider.
TCAT’s board and 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, we enlisted a consulting firm whose draft report was presented to the board of directors at its December meeting. We now have the meticulously edited final report that will soon be available to the public on TCAT’s website, which concluded that TCAT needs approximately 10 acres of flat land in the center of Tompkins County. As you can imagine it was quite an intensive task to examine what amounted to be 22 different locations in a county with varying degrees of topography.
From the list of site finalists, the board chose the airport area as it is closer to the county’s center. The location entails a comparatively lesser burden to TCAT’s operations budget, which covers such things as fuel, maintenance and labor costs. Those costs are absorbed by local dollars and we are mindful of the burden to Tompkins County taxpayers. To pay for the new facility, we expect that 80 percent of the cost of a new facility to be covered by federal grants — as competed for and awarded to build new transit facilities that boost the economies local communities all across the country. Of the remaining costs, we figure 10 percent will be covered by New York state grants with the remaining 10 percent paid for locally.
Additionally, if TCAT does move to the airport site, we will be building a facility from scratch and that will be customized to meet the needs of a 21st-century public transit facility. Renovating an existing building will mean compromise and, in some cases, hidden and often unexpected environmental clean-up costs. The airport site has no history of industrial use, as opposed to other sites TCAT considered. As we will be asking for money from a variety of funders we need to keep in mind that those holding the purse strings tend to look more favorably on projects that are less prone to surprises.
We all agree that TCAT is bursting at the seams at our current location. Our local underwriters – Cornell University, the City of Ithaca, and Tompkins County – are all interested in increased bus service. It has come to the point where TCAT needs a bigger facility, and that is going to take some money. It’s going to be worth it. Single-occupancy vehicles exact a hefty a cost to our environment and contribute to climate change, an existential threat that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and local comprehensive plans vow to address.
Even with diesel buses, using transit is far better than driving alone as numerous studies tell us time and again. To take our efforts a step further, TCAT hopes to switch to an all-electric fleet, but that’s a process that will take at least a decade and, by the way, will require more vehicle support space the current Willow Ave. facility doesn’t have.
Again, this project is in its early stages with years of hard work ahead. Rest assured, we will be coming out with a lot more information for the community to examine as we move forward.
TCAT Board Member and Tompkins County Legislator