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Local officials say they are interested in studying implementation of public transportation in Hardin County, but the cost and avenues to finance a system are unknown, leaving room for concern.
Some expressed openness toward a cost-sharing approach for public transit but others said city budgets are too constrained for a commitment to a partnership.
Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker said since he took office two years ago, few residents have approached him wanting a public transportation system, but he doesn’t consider silence as an absence of need.
“It’s just not appeared to be a high priority for the people here,” he said.
Walker said he has attended discussions about such a system but wants to see hard numbers on costs and options for funding assistance.
“None of us can do it our own,” Walker said of the cost burden that would fall on cities.
Instead, Walker said, it would have to be a collaborative effort paid for by the county’s municipalities. Walker is concerned, too, about the anticipated use rate and whether the anticipated numbers are sufficient to make the investment.
Elizabethtown has access to Transit Authority of Central Kentucky, he said, but some residents are looking for a system with more affordable rates.
The Radcliff-Elizabethtown Metropolitan Planning Organization is hosting a forum on the subject later this month at the Lincoln Trail Area Development District to gather input and suggestions from the public. Information obtained will assist the MPO and its Louisville consultant during a data collection process for the study, which will determine routes, what stops should be set, costs involved and funding options. The implementation study follows a 2005 feasibility study that showed a system was possible here. The areas of Elizabethtown, Radcliff, Vine Grove and Fort Knox were targeted in the study.
Hardin Judge-Executive Harry Berry said public transit has been discussed for 10 to 12 years and the latest study will consider post-BRAC results at Fort Knox in its equation. Berry said it is imperative to calculate the costs and what funding assistance is available to offset expenses while also fleshing out ridership numbers to determine if the resources available could meet the needs. If projected use is low, a lot more local money would be needed to subsidize the program, Berry said.
Radcliff Mayor J.J. Duvall supports public transportation but has mentioned money as a sticking point.
“I think there is a need for this for the public,” Duvall said. “You’ve got an aging population, the elderly population in the county; fuel prices are going up.”
The city purchased a used trolley to use during festivals and city-sponsored events but the goal is to use it as a limited form of public transportation.
The city has discussed designing a route along major thoroughfares in the future, but nothing has been finalized. Duvall said the city must figure out how to “help the public meet some of the needs and have a smaller route to start out.”
“Public transportation does not have to be a shuttle bus,” Duvall said of the city’s decision to purchase the trolley.
To assist residents, Radcliff is offering a free trolley ride for those who want to attend the Dec. 17 forum in Elizabethtown. Departure times will be released closer to the date of the meeting, Duvall said.
Michael Mullarkey, a Radcliff resident and staunch advocate for public transportation, has been imploring local governments to invest in public transit for years but said he has received nothing but pushback. He accused officials of concealing transportation meetings from the public in an attempt to suppress discussion.
Mullarkey believes a system, if available, would be used by employees, students and other demographic groups around the county.
“It’s not just the handicapped,” he said.
Mullarkey said he has obtained thousands of signatures in favor of a system through petitions and researched federal assistance for its creation.
“No, it’s not going to pay for itself,” but Mullarkey insists money exists to cover the majority of start-up capital and to offset operating expenses.
His research has fallen on deaf ears when he has approached local governments, he said, pointing out the county missed an opportunity to pursue BRAC grants for the project.
He acknowledged other available options, such as cab companies and TACK, but said their rates are more expensive than some resident can or want to spend. He has asked those who are satisfied with the alternatives to park their vehicles for a week and use only the public resources available.
Mullarkey said he is puzzled by the perceived lack of interest from local governments and the claim by cities they cannot afford a system considering the construction of “super sports fields,” a reference to the Elizabethtown Sports Park. He said luxuries often take precedence over necessities.
“It certainly strikes me as a little odd, but everyone has their own way of doing things,” he said.
Col. Bruce Jenkins, Fort Knox garrison commander, said the post supports any improvements offering positive benefits to its population.
“Any transportation plans that increase safety and reduce commute times to and from Fort Knox are appreciated,” he said in a statement. “I’m confident the area municipalities and transportation offices will make decisions in this regard that are in the best interests of our community.”
Vine Grove Mayor Blake Proffitt, meanwhile, said a need exists in his city for public transportation, particularly for the elderly.
“We have a lot of aging families who would love to see it,” he said. “We’ll be a cog in the wheel. We won’t be the wheel.”
Proffitt said he fully supports the concept but there is no room in the city’s budget to pay for its own system or financially partner with other cities. However, he hopes Vine Grove would be considered as part of any route proposed.
Practically speaking, though, Proffitt knows the system must be affordable to work.
“There’s a lot of things we want, but there’s got to be a way to pay for them,” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.