MONTPELIER — Green Mountain Transit started bus service out of the Montpelier Transit Center on Monday — but it will be a while before passengers can wait for buses in the transit center’s warm waiting room.
Passengers shivered outside while the climate-controlled waiting room remained dark and empty. GMT officials said they will install ADA-compliant buttons or “paddles” that would allow people with disabilities to enter the waiting room, as well as other transit passengers, before the building can open.
The launch of the transit center follows an official ribbon-cutting at the site in October, which includes 30 new, affordable apartments above the transit center, a project of Downstreet Housing and Development in Barre and Housing Vermont.
But GMT and city officials were still wrestling with last-minute details that include hiring employees to staff the ticket counter that would allow waiting passengers to use the bathrooms, if they show a ticket or ID. GMT is also working on finding a vendor, such as a coffee shop, for the waiting room.
“The Transit Center is still closed to the general public while staffing and data are being finalized,” said Public Works Director Donna Barlow Casey.
Resident Stephen Whitaker, who was present at the start of service on Monday, was concerned that the pedestrian bridge over the North Branch river connecting the transit center to Main Street had been closed by the city. It meant that anyone wanting to get to the transit center has to go around, either via State Street or Memorial Drive.
Whitaker said he had been told that the bridge couldn’t be plowed because the surface of the former Mowatt property nearest Main Street had not been graded and paved, causing plows coming off the bridge to dig into the dirt and risk causing damage to the plow.
Whitaker also complained that a pile of contaminated soil — which is partly why the site hasn’t been graded and paved — was still on the site; he maintains it is not properly covered and risked damage to the surrounding environment through erosion and runoff.
Barlow Casey said the city was trying to get permission from the state to address the closure of the bridge with temporary paving on the former Mowatt site.
“We’ve recently made a written request of the state Department of Environmental Conservation for permission to put down temporary pavement on the path leading from the bridge towards downtown and are awaiting their decision,” Barlow Casey said.
“The soil contamination levels are very low and comprised of natural mineral deposits that are consistent with native soils. In regards to the cover for the soil pile, wind has shifted the covering in spite of efforts to tie down the covering. The pile is expected to be moved off site within the next couple of weeks,” she added.
Another area of concern for some passengers at the transit center on Monday were unplowed areas of sidewalk on the south and west sides of the building.
Barlow Casey said there had been some confusion about whether the city or GMT was responsible for plowing, which had since been resolved.
“The access areas to the bike path from the transit center are the responsibility of the transit center,” Barlow Casey said. “The bike path that runs alongside the transit center is the responsibility of the city and I should have clarified this with staff after the first snow event. The department will address this going forward.”
Jamie Smith, director of marketing and planning for GMT, confirmed those details.
Despite the problems, some early commuters were still happy the transit center was in operation.
Douglas Badger, of Montpelier, was waiting to catch the Waterbury Commuter bus and willing to be patient.
“It’s the first day that we get to try out this new terminal,” Badger said. “I believe it’s going to help a lot of the congestion (in town).”
Also waiting for the same bus was Dawn Wood, of Barre, to travel home after an overnight shift at a telephone call center in Montpelier. However, the switch of the bus’s downtown pick-up point meant a longer walk for her to the transit center.
“I used to get off at the Subway (store) or at Shaw’s (supermarket), depending on what errands I needed to run before work,” Wood said. “Now I’m having to go twice as far to get to where I work, which is on the other end of Main Street.”
Smith said there had been some confusion about the change in services with the opening of services, but said the general response to the transit center has been good.
A link to the changes in the operations of GMT in Montpelier, maps of GMT routes and bus schedules can be found at https://ridegmt.com/montpelier-transit-center/
For more information about GMT services, call 223-7287.