CHAMPAIGN — It may be some time, if ever, before Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District buses and riders are able to again use the transfer area at the Country Fair Shopping Center in west Champaign.
The transfer area, used by about 1,500 riders daily on eight MTD routes, was closed May 24 in a dispute over roadway and parking-lot maintenance.
Passengers who had been using the Country Fair transfer area now have to use a temporary site about two blocks south on Round Barn Road.
"I am moving forward with a few possible outcomes," said Karl Gnadt, managing director of the MTD. "One is to continue the conversation with the owner of Country Fair. One is that I'm in the midst of conversation with one of the owners of Round Barn (shopping center on Springfield Avenue). And I am talking to the city about other alternatives."
The "central issue," Gnadt said, "is maintenance of the parking lot."
Carl Webber, attorney for Country Fair's owner, Cleveland-based GMS Management Co. of Illinois, said repairs have been needed to the center's parking lot and bus transfer area "for some time."
"Recently, the city gave owners notice that (GMS) would have to repair several areas in the parking lot. The owners found that the cost of repair is substantially different if on the one hand you're anticipating a number of buses each day versus merely anticipating some cars and a few delivery trucks," Webber said. "In fact, there are approximately 330 buses that go across Country Fair every weekday.
"The wear and tear on pavement from vehicles of that weight, especially if they have a number of passengers and are full of gas, really does take a toll on the pavement."
And the difference between bringing the pavement up to ordinary standards and to allow for bus use was substantial, he said.
"It became a question of expense, really, and there didn't seem to be any immediate resolution, although I think both sides tried to come up with an answer. The difference in cost is just quite large," Webber said.
There was some discussion of "cost-sharing," he said, "but at the level of the cost of doing that, it became very difficult. It is a substantial amount of money."
Asked if the new arrangement is permanent and whether buses no longer would be allowed at Country Fair, Webber said, "They made a suggestion, and Country Fair made a suggestion, and they're not really too close. We're certainly willing to talk to them some more, but I think the issue of negotiations ought to be left to the parties."
Said Gnadt: "We are still talking to a representative for the owner, so there are still some negotiations going on."
In a memo to MTD board members last month, Gnadt wrote that the "main point of discussion is segregation of duties."
"The duty of MTD is to provide public transit services to the community, and it is the duty of cities, villages and private landowners to maintain their roadways. In turn, when we operate on private property, we bring employees and customers to the business center."
Meanwhile, Gnadt said that the MTD is "getting a lot of feedback" about the loss of the Country Fair transfer area.
"Some of it is that it's a change. But some of it is that it actually is an inconvenience for people," he said. "I got a call from a lady who is 88 years old, and she shops at Ruler Foods and Dollar General. She'd come in on the bus, do her shopping and then she could walk to the Country Fair stop and go home.
"Now, she has to get off on Springfield, walk across the parking lot, which a pretty good distance for an 88-year-old. And then she had to walk to Springfield or to Round Barn Drive. That's just too far for her, and she can't do it. This is a life-changing situation for her. That's the kind of thing we're struggling with — how to help someone who is in that situation."