Friday, December 28, 2012

No smooth road for bus transportation facilities

Mountain Rides proposals meet opposition both north and south

Express Staff Writer

Main Street in Ketchum now serves as a de-facto transit hub for Mountain Rides Transportation Authority buses, with passengers getting on and off buses at the bus stop at Wells Fargo Bank on the west side of the street and at the bus stop at Sturtevants on the east side. Mountain Rides is seeking to establish a permanent transit hub in Ketchum to provide safe and convenient passenger transfers between the organizationís route systems. Photo by Roland Lane

Mountain Rides Transportation Authority faced a bumpy road in 2012 in its attempts to first establish a transit hub in Ketchum and later to build a transportation center in Bellevue.

Back to the drawing board became the order of the day for both proposals.

Mountain Rides has federal grant money and local matching funds to establish either of the facilities, but has struggled with a place to put them.

If established, a Ketchum transit hub would provide a central location for passenger information and bus transfers between the Mountain Rides route systems.

A south valley transportation center, originally proposed for Bellevue, would provide a passenger information kiosk and a waiting area for passengers on the Mountain Rides Valley Route, which runs between the north and south valley, and would also have a bus housing and maintenance facility and a park-and-ride lot.


Ketchum transit hub

Mountain Rides has argued that many resort towns with public transportation systems have central locations for route changes, and that establishing one in Ketchum would enhance the bus system for both regular commuters and visitors alike.

However, local business owners threw a fit when Mountain Rides proposed early in 2012 to establish a transit hub on East Avenue between Sun Valley Road and Second Street. Plan opponents argued that establishment of the hub there would take away parking spaces and hurt business.

The uproar was loud enough that in April, Mountain Rides and the city of Ketchum, a partner in the deal, temporarily scratched the East Avenue plan and instead considered other sites, originally 15 of them.

In addition to consideration of other sites, Mountain Rides and the city decided they were going to have to do a better job of selling the hub idea and involving the public in the decision. Mountain Rides has now had three open houses to show the public the planning as it evolves and to solicit public input. A fourth open house is planned for February 2013.

By October 2012, Mountain Rides had whittled the original list of 15 possible sites down to six and by December down to three.

The original East Avenue plan remains on the finalist list.

Also on the list is a site on Sun Valley Road where it intersects East Avenue, part of a plan that would require closing portions of East Avenue to vehicle traffic and requiring that passengers cross Sun Valley Road for some bus transfers.

The third site is in west Ketchum south of the intersection of Washington Avenue and Second Street.

Final site selection is expected after the February open house.


Proposed south valley center

The Mountain Rides plan to establish a south valley transportation center was unexpectedly snuffed in early December by the city of Bellevue.

Mountain Rides officials have stated that the Bellevue site, a 2.97-acre parcel complete with a large two-story building near the intersection of state Highway 75 and Gannett Road, was ideal for a transportation center. However, Bellevue officials concluded that even though the property has been unused for more than two years, it would be of greater benefit to the city if it were used for retail purposes.

Mountain Rides had already offered to purchase the property for $780,000 from owner Gannett 75 LLC, but that offer was contingent upon the city modifying its zoning law to allow the use.

Bellevue Mayor Chris Koch said the city would like the center to be built in Bellevue but at another location. Mountain Rides board Chair Peter Everett said the organization considered several other Bellevue sites but that none met the organization’s needs.

In reaction to the Bellevue decision, Mountain Rides announced on Dec. 19 that it was eliminating Bellevue altogether from the plan and would look instead to build a transportation center in Hailey.

In addition, since unlike Blaine County and other municipalities in the valley, Bellevue has contributed nothing financially for the past few years for Mountain Rides operations, the organization announced on Dec. 19 that it was putting together a plan to reduce the number of Valley Route trips to Bellevue. Mountain Rides now runs 17 roundtrips to Bellevue each weekday.

Terry Smith:


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