Having enjoyed reading my enr.com colleagues’ rankings of their favorite bridges over the past few weeks, I decided this was an opportune time to offer a cyber shout-out to what will soon be my favorite bus terminal.That’s right, bus terminal. Specifically, the Multi-Modal Transit Center in Petersburg, Va.
Admittedly, there’s some personal bias involved. Petersburg is where my mother’s family is from. I was born there and raised just up the road in Hopewell.
But my admiration for this $18-million, 27,000-sf facility goes deeper than that.
As with many other small cities in the South, and indeed across the country, Petersburg has struggled mightily for many years as one mainstay manufacturing industry after another has packed up and left, each move siphoning more life from a once bustling downtown. Another blow was dealt literally and figuratively in 1993 when a tornado swept through Petersburg’s historic Old Town district, undercutting a promising revival effort that has only recently regained traction.
What has helped sustain Petersburg to some extent is a treasure trove of history. The city played a pivotal role in the American Revolution and Civil War, boasts neighborhoods of historic houses (many of which are being restored to their 19th Century grandeur), and contributed to the Civil Rights movement.
But the past can carry a city only so far, especially in a technology-driven world where connectivity—whether it’s on the ground, in the air, or electronically—and the infrastructure to support it are essential to survival.
In other words, Petersburg needed not another a window to the past, but a viable portal to the future.
The new Transit Center has the potential to achieve just that. When it opens later this year, the new facility will accommodate both national and local bus services, plus taxis, shuttles, and paratransit vehicles. It will arrive just in time to help support the BRAC-driven addition of 12,000 new workers at nearby Fort Lee, and give thousands of areas residents a long-needed alternative to personal automobiles.
In addition, the architecturally stylish building could become the catalyst for transit-oriented developments that have reinvigorated other cities. One proposal has the facility anchoring an economic development corridor that includes renovating several abandoned factory and warehouse buildings into upscale apartments.
Admittedly, one masonry and steel structure can do only so much to help Petersburg achieve these lofty aspirations. A host other factors will contribute to when, and even if, this transformational vision is achieved. And some of the most critical ones are beyond the control of Petersburg’s leaders and citizens.
But let’s not forget that the notion of transportation is not solely about destinations, but also the experience of getting there. With the Transit Center as its hub, the improved mobility for Petersburg and the region can only help improve its cohesion. Connecting residents with each other and the outside world may well inspire them to broaden their cultural, social, and economic horizons—the very things transportation infrastructure projects are supposed to deliver their communities.
For now, Petersburg can count on the new Transit Center to provide something that has been missing for too long: the hope that its days as a down on its heels city will be a thing of the past.