Friday, January 18, 2013

Mountain Rides softens stance on Bellevue service

No immediate route cutback, city still considered for transit center

Express Staff Writer

Mountain Rides Transportation Authority won’t be cutting back Valley Route bus service to Bellevue anytime soon, but a cutback could come as early as May to help the organization overcome an anticipated $30,000 budget shortfall.

Also, regardless of statements made by Mountain Rides officials in December, the organization is still considering building a South Valley Transportation Center in Bellevue.

The softened stance regarding Bellevue was revealed at a Mountain Rides board of directors meeting Wednesday. Mountain Rides’ threats to cut service to the city and build a South Valley Transportation Center elsewhere came about last month when the city of Bellevue rejected a Mountain Rides’ plan to build the center on a 2.97-acre property just south of the intersection of Gannett Road and state Highway 75.

Bellevue officials said then that the property would be of greater benefit to the city if it is used for commercial purposes. The property, where a landscaping company earlier resided, has not been used for about three years.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller said that since the organization announced last month that it was abandoning plans for a transportation center at the Bellevue site, he has been approached by several real estate agents, the city of Hailey and Blaine County with alternative locations.

The proposed Hailey site is on city-owned property on Aviation Drive, but Miller said the location may be too far removed from main bus routes that travel on Highway 75.

The proposal from Blaine County, however, is on a parcel that borders Gannett Road and is just south of the previously considered location.

Regarding bus service to Bellevue, Miller said Mountain Rides is facing a $30,000 Valley Route budget shortfall this year because the organization had anticipated saving that amount by not having to move empty buses to Bellevue to start their routes and by not having to pay rental costs for a location on Woodside Boulevard where Mountain Rides now stores buses.

Since Bellevue, unlike Blaine County and other municipalities in the Wood River Valley, pays nothing toward Mountain Rides operations, Miller said service may have to be cut to the city later to recoup the lost money.


Other business

In other business Wednesday, Mountains Rides released ridership data showing that the organization ridership in 2012 was the highest in 18 years.

Operations Manager Jim Finch reported that one-way ridership totaled 482,157 in 2012, leading to a .1 percent increase over 2011 total ridership of 481,360. Finch attributed the increase to higher skier numbers and a slight improvement in the local economy, particularly in December.

The previous record of 495,783 was set in 1994, a year when Sun Valley’s skier numbers were particularly high.

In further business, former Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant served her first meeting as board chair. She replaces long-time Chair Peter Everett, who has had health problems for the past few years.

“Nothing was broken here,” McBryant said. “Peter thought it was time for him to participate as a member but not as an officer.”

The board also welcomed new board member Sarah Michael, a former Blaine County commissioner who will now represent the county on the board.

“For me it’s been a four- or five-year break and it’s time for me to get engaged again,” Michael said.

Michael replaces longtime board member Jim Jaquet, whose resignation became effective at the end of 2012. At a December board meeting, Jaquet said he will remain active in Mountain Rides activities and will continue to help run the Story Tour visitor bus service that the organization operates in the summer.

Terry Smith:

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