'Long time coming:' Groundbreaking for new transportation center set for Monday

Mar. 18—ALBANY — Held up for the last few months due to COVID-related supply chain issues and before that for decades in selecting a site, Albany's new Transportation Center is nearly completed.

The sometimes arduous journey comes to an end Monday with a ribbon-cutting at 10 a.m. for the new Albany Transportation Center a week before the facility on West Oglethorpe Boulevard opens to the public.

"It's been a long time coming," city Transportation Director David Hamilton said during a Friday tour of the interior of the building. "I got assigned to this project in 2003. There have been two environmental assessments and two site selection processes, two archaeological processes, numerous public meetings.

"(When) we stood here in 2021 for the groundbreaking, we had this vision."

During those 20 years, city commissioners and mayors also have come and gone.

The new facility, located on the site of the former Greyhound station that served as the transportation center before it was razed to construct the new building, offers amenities that were absent from the building that was demolished.

It also marks a huge improvement from the temporary bus station located behind the Albany Civic Center, where riders huddled under a gazebo in inclement weather.

"This project is really near and dear to me," Hamilton said. "This is awesome, a great transportation center to be proud of.

"This facility has a really safe feel. We have cameras, we'll have lighting, just a safe environment."

The new facility has plenty of shelter, both at the area where passengers board and depart buses and inside. The interior includes several monitors that give information about arrivals and departures as well as other information.

Greyhound will provide commercial bus service from the center.

The facility also includes a conference room that can host community meetings and other gatherings, a computer center available to the public, and vending machines. It also includes space depicting the history of the former bus station in the Albany Movement during the civil rights era.

During the past two decades a site was initially identified on city-owned property behind the Dougherty County Judicial Building, with a vision of a two-story structure with stores and perhaps restaurants on the first floor and business offices upstairs. That site fell through due to opposition from downtown businesses as well as concerns that there could be Native American artifacts at the location.

Over the following years, several other sites were identified, including the former site of the Heritage House Hotel on West Oglethorpe Boulevard, which was still standing at the time.

Eventually the city rented space at the former Trailways station before purchasing the 300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd. site, demolishing it and building the new transportation hub.

The history of the area is not just limited to the civil rights area, as the Harlem District where the facility is located has a history of its own as a once-thriving area for black-owned businesses.

Hamilton said he hopes the new development will help spur a revival of economic activity in the area.

"You've got opportunities for some more commercial development," he said. "You've got opportunities for residential development, retail. It'd be nice if we had a grocery store in this area. We don't have that. The transportation center has opened the doors for a lot of opportunities."

Despite rising costs during the pandemic, the project won't exceed the $11.5 million budget, Hamilton said. And ultimately, it is something that will offer a great service to residents.

"I'm proud of what we have," he said. "I think the citizens and taxpayers will be proud as well. To come to something like this is amazing. I'm happier for the riders than anybody. This is something they deserve."