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Depot to merge city travel methods

By Richard Yeakley
Feb. 9, 2013 at 10 p.m.

Griff Hubbard remembers 40 years ago when he had his first discussion about a multi-modal transportation center in Longview.

The revenue manager for Amtrack's Texas Eagle said he was ecstatic when work began Monday on the renovation of the historic train depot, a year-long undertaking that will serve as the capstone of a project that brings Longview's rail, air and bus transportation together.

"It is a gigantic deal," Hubbard said. "It is the biggest thing that has happened to Longview in the past 40 years."

Crews began the renovation of the depot at 905 Pacific Avenue on Monday, tearing into the walls and working to restore the 73-year-old building to its former glory.

"Amtrak will use it mostly; they get the lion's share of the space. We are working on the passenger and ticket area now, hoping to have that done by the end of February," said City architect Brent Brevard.

Brevard said the renovation would make many spaces, previously abandoned, usable again.

The west side of the building will have an outside waiting porch. Downstairs there will be lockers for travelers to store their luggage as they wait for the train and another room for meetings.

Upstairs will have a vending area that will either be filled with a sandwich or coffee shop and office space for the city - although it is unknown which city department will occupy the space.

There will also be space for an Amtrak baggage area, the Longview Police Department and Union Pacific offices.

The renovation will also include an overhaul of all electrical, plumbing and air conditioning equipment.

"Oh yes, Amtrak will move back into the original ticket station and waiting room just as the building was originally designed," Hubbard said. "Amtrak will quadruple its current square footage. Right now the Longview facility is handling approximately 180 passengers per day with 90 passengers per train, and we are doing this from about a waiting room with 50 seats."

Amtrak services should not be affected by the renovations.

The $2.2 million project was paid for by grants from a Federal Highway Administration Transportation Enhancement grant. The process of procuring the grant was partially responsible for renovation starting in February rather than the originally-planned summer of 2012.

In April, city, county and transportation officials held a "wall-breaking" ceremony to recognize the start of project.

But, bidding the project and coordinating with state and federal agencies to fund it, as well as helping the transition of the Greyhound bus station to the new multi-modal transportation center, pushed the start date back," Brevard said.

Greyhound is set to have completed its move by the end of March.

Mega Contractors from Fort Worth will oversee the renovation, Brevard said. The same company oversaw the renovation of Mineola's historic train depot, Hubbard said.

By the end of the construction - Amtrak, Greyhound and the Longview Transit bus system will be based on Pacific Avenue, off of Mobberly Avenue just south of downtown. There are also plans to provide transportation from the multi-modal center to the East Texas Regional Airport.

"We need all three, planes, trains and buses – they are not competitors; they complement each other," Hubbard said. "This is the most important thing in downtown Longview from a regional perspective in decades.

"Mayor Jay Dean and Judge Bill Stoudt prioritized regional inter-modal transportation for Longview and Gregg County when they didn't have to do it. They get it. This is an economic development and mobility need for the next generation," he said.

Longtime Longview supporter of Amtrak and public transportation, Natalie Rabicoff, said she thought the multi-modal center would spark a marked growth in use of Amtrak, Greyhound, and Longview transit.

"I think that whole inter-modal system is going to bloom," Rabicoff said.

But Rabicoff believes the growth of transit in Longview will make the newly renovated depot need more space soon after the work is completed.

"I think that we are going to bulging at the side seams," Rabicoff said. "I think the waiting the room will be close to being too small for the increased ridership. In the near future, we will probably have to look at expansions or additions."



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