Friday, May 17, 2013

Mountain Rides OKs bus hub plan

Proposed transit center still subject to city approval

Express Staff Writer

Mountain Rides Transportation Authority has developed this conceptual layout for a proposed bus transit hub at the intersection of Sun Valley Road and East Avenue in Ketchum. The hub would provide parking for up to five buses and widened sidewalks at the corners of the intersection for improved pedestrian safety.
Courtesy graphic

     The board of directors of Mountain Rides Transportation Authority on Wednesday unanimously approved a conceptual layout for a Ketchum bus hub at the intersection of Sun Valley Road and East Avenue.

     Both the location and the conceptual layout for the transit hub are still subject to approval by the Ketchum City Council. The Idaho Transportation Department must also approve the plan because Sun Valley Road is a spur road to state Highway 75 and thus under ITD jurisdiction. Approval is further required of the Federal Transit Administration, which would provide most of the money for the project.

     The transit hub would accommodate up to five buses at a time on either side of Sun Valley Road. Sidewalk extensions would be built at all four corners of the intersection to facilitate pedestrian traffic. The conceptual layout also considers possible shelter areas for bus passengers at the Sun Valley Visitor Center and at the bus stop at The Elephant’s Perch sports store.

     “I think the community has wanted to know for a long time where it’s going,” said Executive Director Jason Miller. “This provides that,” he said, referring to the conceptual layout.

     Building the hub is expected to cost about $390,000, with $312,000 coming from a federal grant and the remainder in local matching funds.

     The transit hub has been in the planning stages for more than a year. Numerous locations in the city were considered, but the Mountain Rides board of directors in March selected the Sun Valley Road-East Avenue location.

     Mountain Rides hopes that construction can begin this fall.

East Fork bus turnout

     In other business Wednesday, the board rejected a $50,000 bid from Ketchum-based Lloyd Construction to build a bus turnout on the northeast corner of the intersection of East Fork Road and Highway 75 in the mid-valley. The objections came because the bid was about $6,000 over budget.

     It was a close vote. Board members Sarah Michael, Mark Gilbert and Steve Wolper voted to accept the bid, while board members Nils Ribi, Michael David and Joe Miczulski voted against it. Board Chair Susan McBryant broke the tie with a no vote.

     “Personally, I’m not going to be able to support it because of changes in our funding,” McBryant said. “I would have voted for it if it had come in for what we budgeted.”

     “I’m really concerned about dipping into reserves for things like that,” said Ribi. “We need to think about what our core mission is and that’s providing buses for the public to ride.”

     Wolper said the bus turnout is an important project and since there is a $38,000 federal grant to help fund the project that Mountain Rides “should take advantage of the opportunity.”

     Mountain Rides Operations Manager Jim Finch told the board that he favors the project.

     “If we build it, it’s going to generate ridership,” Finch said.

     At the urging of Wolper, the board unanimously agreed to put the project out for bid again. Board members who voted against accepting the bid said they’d likely support the project if it’s within budget.

Funding outlook

     Also Wednesday, Miller advised the board that the federal funding outlook for fiscal year 2014 is not as bleak now as it appeared to be in April, when Mountain Rides was facing the possibility of a $200,000 cut in funding.

     While the funding situation is still unsettled, Miller said his latest discussions with the Idaho Transportation Department indicate that the federal funding loss might be only be $40,000.

     “We’re in better shape than we had thought on the federal,” Miller said.

     He said he anticipates larger federal funding losses in the future but that “right now for the next two years we’ve smoothed some of that out.”

     Mountain Rides received $955,000 in federal funding for this fiscal year. The organization’s total budget for the year is about $2.4 million.

     In an interview later Wednesday, Miller said Mountain Rides will likely spend $930,000 in federal money this year and that the current projection is that the organization will receive $890,000 for fiscal 2014.

     In April, the projected federal funding for 2014 was $753,000.

     Miller said the additional funds are now available because ITD seems willing to allocate previous Mountain Ride federal funds that were not spent in earlier years.

     “It was money that was awarded to us a couple of years back, but they put some time restrictions on it,” he said, adding that use of the money was to have expired by the beginning of fiscal 2014 but that ITD is now considering extending the spending deadline to fiscal year 2016.

     “It’s a better picture now, but it is still being finalized with ITD,” Miller said. “But it’s looking better, absolutely.”

Terry Smith:

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