The small but thoughtfully designed Richard Moya Eastside Bus Plaza in Austin has a big impact on the underserved community where it is located.
Client Capital Area Rural Transportation System
Architect McCann Adams Studio
Architect of Record Jackson & McElhaney Architects
Contractor G Hyatt Construction
Feasibility Phase Planning LJA Engineering
Environmental Engineer Blanton & Associates
Geotechnical Engineer Raba Kistner
Surveyor 4Ward Land Surveying
Cost Estimator Sunland Group
Civil Engineer Civilitude
Traffic Engineer HDR
Landscape Architect Studio Balcones
Structural Engineer Architectural Engineers Collaborative
MEP Engineer Bay & Associates
Wayfinding MapWell Studio
Signage Design LVCK
Sustainability Consulting Francois Levy Architecture + Interiors
Though diminutive in size, the Richard A. Moya Eastside Bus Plaza demonstrates how good, civic-oriented design can improve larger public projects. Located in East Austin on a triangular site at the intersection of Shady Lane, Cesar Chavez Street, and East Fifth Street, what was once a barren dirt site used infrequently for construction staging is now an intermodal transit hub serving Austin and nearby rural communities. The plaza opened in late June as the result of a unique collaborative effort between all Austin-area transportation agencies, including the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Capital Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS), Capital Metro, the City of Austin, and Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA).
In the 1920s, the site was deeded to the Highway Department by Travis County for a rest stop for the State Highway 20 project, but the rest area was never developed and the property sat vacant for decades. It was the founder and first board chair of CARTS, Richard Moya, who in 1986 suggested that CARTS build on the vacant lot. Moya was also the first Mexican American elected to public office in Travis County, and he would eventually become the plaza’s namesake. CARTS secured use of the site from TxDOT in 2017 on a 40-year lease and received preliminary funding from CAMPO. CARTS then selected the McCann Adams Studio team as part of a competitive process, with Jackson & McElhaney Architects as architect of record and Studio Balcones as landscape architect.
The project integrates a centrally located 2,200-sf circular passenger station building with 10 bus bays distributed along a one-way bus loop. A sheltered pick-up/drop-off zone is provided for on-demand special transit vehicles. There is also a bike-share station, as the bus plaza is located along the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, a major urban trail linking Austin’s east and west sides.
“It’s a very small ragtag site that we had to work with,” explains Jana McCann, FAIA, CEO of McCann Adams Studio. “So that was the first thing we focused on: figuring out the roadway pattern and improving it.”
Clad in Pecos Red sandstone from West Texas, the passenger station incorporates primal geometries inspired by nature, embodying CARTS’ vision for a timeless, regionally authentic structure. The project’s prominent clocktower and steel signage together act as a landmark at a key entry point into the city.
Inside, custom double-sided, steel-and-pecan wood benches oriented in a circle define the central waiting area. The seating is set within eight longleaf pine columns that are now on their third life after first being salvaged from a cottonseed oil mill and later being reused in the first CARTS headquarters building.
With its lofted ceiling and clerestory windows, the central waiting area is reminiscent of an Italian rotunda, creating an unexpectedly grand experience in what might otherwise have been a perfunctory transit hub. Blue glass mosaic tiles gradating upward from dark to light contribute to the serenity of the environment. “People always tell me, ‘This reminds me of a cenote,’” says David Marsh, general manager of CARTS. “That’s what I always feel, like I’m in a cenote. The blue, the tranquility.”
Support spaces like restrooms, the break room, and the ticketing office line the perimeter of the building. The terminal also provides a place for bus drivers, an often-overlooked user group, to take a break during the day. Normally minor details, such as keying systems, restrooms, and transit schedule monitors, are complex endeavors in practice when coordinating among multiple transportation agencies — and this is particularly true now, when they are compounded by recent ongoing supply chain issues. As such, some of these features are still being fine-tuned before the plaza becomes fully operational.
To the east of the passenger station building, a sunken courtyard composed of three intersecting circles provides space for community events and meetings and is envisioned to one day host a small farmers’ market or a Community Supported Agriculture drop-off. A rainwater collection system funnels water from the station roof to a double-tiered limestone ledge, creating a small water feature in the courtyard. The plaza’s recessed, subtly sloping grade not only helps to drain stormwater runoff but also provides a buffer from the surrounding bus loop and street system beyond.
The landscape design by Studio Balcones is a feat unto itself, restoring a site largely devoid of life to one that embraces the ecoregion of the central Texas Blackland Prairie, complete with Mexican fan palms, bald cypress trees, and pink Muhly grass that lends a vibrant pop of color. Through the addition of a series of topographic features to capture stormwater and reuse excavated fill generated during construction, the existing lot was transformed from a flat site to a rolling, verdant landscape. Visitors are encouraged to explore a series of rain gardens and boardwalks, and scattered interpretive signage describes the project’s sustainability features and site ecology. Plans are also underway to establish a composting and recycling program on site, with targets set for a four-star Austin Energy Green Building rating and SITES Silver certification.
In a neighborhood that has been rife with gentrification, gaining community buy-in was critical to the success of the project. “I think one of the things we’re all really proud of is the relationship that we’ve had with the neighboring community and the Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Association,” explains McCann. “From the very beginning — before this was even conceptualized in a building form at all — we met with them and said: we want to do this station here; we want to make sure it integrates with the community. They loved the idea that we weren’t asking for anything, and this was really about a public service.”
Numerous members of the local community attended the groundbreaking ceremony in February 2020, with leaders of the social justice organization PODER Austin even performing a blessing of the site. “We actually formed a circle with about 100 people there — man, woman, man, woman,” Marsh describes. “There were flutes, and they were burning sage. Our TxDOT partners had never seen anything like this at a dedication. It was a beautiful day.” Although construction was complicated by the pandemic, the team hopes to hold a grand opening celebration early this year.
But regardless of when a proper opening ceremony can occur, the plaza serves as an example for other public projects of what is possible when stakeholders come together with a shared vision. In reflecting on the involvement of so many public agencies, McCann notes, “I think it was shockingly wonderful for them to see that something like this could emerge and that they were part of it.”
Anastasia Calhoun, Assoc. AIA, is chair of TxA’s Publications Committee.