The City Commission on Tuesday awarded an $8.5 million contract to the D.N. Higgins firm to build the long-awaited new transit center on Stock Island to replace the one at 627 Palm Ave.
It passed with a 5-1 vote, pushing forward a project that city staff has talked about since 2006, after the Palm Avenue bus headquarters were damaged by Hurricane Wilma's storm surge in 2005.
The transit center, planned for 3.9 acres on the site of the former Solid Waste to Energy facility, would include administrative offices, fuel pumps and tanks and stations for bus washing and fleet maintenance.
"This need has been known since 2006," wrote city engineer Birchard Ohlinger in a memo to city staff, calling the present station "undersized and in poor condition."
City Commissioner Teri Johnston stood as the lone dissenter, questioning whether the $8.5 million bid would cover all costs.
After the meeting, Johnston said Key West doesn't need a new bus center with six bays, no matter if state transportation grants cover the building costs. While 100 percent of the construction is likely to be paid for with state money, she said, the demolition and the subsequent yearly maintenance will fall to the city.
"We're taking on another facility to maintain," Johnston said, as Old City Hall emptied after the 6 p.m. meeting.
The rest of the dais, Mayor Craig Cates and City Commissioners Clayton Lopez, Billy Wardlow, Jimmy Weekley and Tony Yaniz, voted in favor of the contract. Commissioner Mark Rossi was absent.
As for the Palm Avenue transit station, Johnston said, "We own it."
D.N. Higgins is a Key West firm that bid on the project with a partnering design firm, CDM Smith, of Ann Arbor, Mich.
Down with plastic, texting
Also Tuesday night, the City Commission voted 6-0 to support two pending bills the state Legislature is reviewing: One to ban text-messaging while driving, making it a noncriminal traffic violation punishable by fines between $30 and $60.
Florida law forbids cities and counties from passing their own laws related to texting while driving. Emergency workers and police officers on duty would still be able to text or email while behind the wheel. Drivers stopped in traffic jams or at stoplights could also text, the bill states.
The commission also gave its support to a second bill that would prohibit certain retail stores from providing plastic disposable bags at checkouts. Instead, businesses across Florida would have to stock up on paper bags, charging customers 10 cents apiece. Half of the money would go to local schools, while the rest would help the companies pay for the new program, the bill states.
Beaches not trashed
City Commissioner Tony Yaniz chastised The Citizen's coverage of spring break's toll on Key West beaches, calling a front-page photograph of trash-strewn sand an unfair portrayal of what college kids left behind.
Photographs posted on Facebook were also misleading and insulting to city maintenance workers and police officers, he said.
"This crew this year was a heck of a lot milder than any other year," Yaniz said.
"Let's not feed the dragon that we have dirty, filthy beaches. Folks, this is your city. You have to stand up and tell people this is a wonderful place to come to and we know how to take care of our guests."
Yaniz said that arresting suspected litterbugs is a terrible idea.
"Having Tasers and paddywagons is not going to solve the problem," he said, again praising the Police Department for its spring break patrols.