Bus station between courthouse, City Hall welcomed with mixed reception

A 12-year hunt for a home ended Monday when the Mountain Line bus system opened its new facility on Pine Street.

Formerly a two-way street, Pine Street was redesigned for one-way public traffic heading east. Two lanes have been added for buses, along with long crosswalks to better handle heavy pedestrian traffic between City Hall and the county courthouse.

Passengers (or people-watchers) can sit on black benches, set on a concrete island between bus lanes, as they wait for rides.

A nearby building gives passengers a warm place to wait, restrooms, a not-yet-contracted concessionaires' stand (decorated with tiles of Montana animals), a break room for employees and on-site facilities for Mountain Line personnel. Another room will allow people who want to start a car pool to find out about others also interested in the idea.

"The transit system has been up and down over the years because it has never had an identity, a center. This will do it," said Missoula Mayor Mike Kadas, who made a quick visit Monday morning.

Other first-time visitors also gave the facility a thumbs-up.

"It's pretty darned nice," said Pat Stewart, who was waiting with her son and grandson for a bus.

"It's great. It's about time," her son, Randi, said. "The only thing lacking is shade. Unless it's air-conditioned, it will be awfully hot."

Mountain Line personnel say air conditioning is included in the menu.

Glenn Welch, the county's Youth Court chief probation officer, lodged a complaint when he noted that county offices could have used the space in the old fire station that was demolished to make room for the bus hub.

"I don't know if we needed it, but it's nice," he said.

Bus drivers also were divided on the facility, admitting that it is nice for passengers, but expensive otherwise. The on-street and off-street facilities cost $878,000.

"I love it," said driver Judy (who declined to give her last name.) "I think for the passengers it will work substantially better. I'm not sure the amount of money they spent on it was worth it."

Another driver Rob Milyko, however, said he thought it was great because it got passengers and buses out of traffic on Broadway.

"This is a centralized place where passengers can get warm in the shelter," he said. "It is all-around better for them."

Mountain Line's main bus business office will remain at 1221 Shakespeare, but a service operator will be at the new location to accommodate bus operators and riders if they need assistance - a pass or information if they've missed a bus, said Steve Earle, Mountain Line's district manager.

"They'll be right here when there's a people problem," he explained.

Bids to operate the concession stand were due Monday and a decision will be made within a week or two.

"We're not looking to generate a lot of revenue here. We just want the concessionaire to draw customers and make the riders happy. That's the whole idea here," Earle said.

The facility's official grand opening is set for Friday, April 14, with a special celebration from 3 to 5 p.m. Treats, music and free bus rides are promised.

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