Transit on the table

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Planning firm proposes connector, circulator system

By Marty Finley

Planning officials proposed a public transportation system for Hardin County that would cost nearly $600,000 a year to operate with built-in flexibility to lower costs.

Alison Townsend, project manager for The Corradino Group, said the system’s premise consists of a fixed-route connector running down U.S. 31W connecting Elizabethtown, Radcliff and Fort Knox, and two 12-mile circulators in Elizabethtown and Radcliff.

The circulators would tie into a main connector and provide access to major shopping, employment and recreational hubs with one round trip per hour, she said Thursday during a public hearing.

While the circulators would run hourly, the connector could run every half hour to anhour. She said the service would force pedestrian crossing safety enhancements along U.S. 31W, which she said would cost a minimum of $50,000 and require approval from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

It has been proposed to run from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays but she said the hours could be scaled back or the days of service could be cut to save money. She also said the connector could be removed from the plan if it proved financially restrictive.

Townsend’s report, which she presented during an open house at the Elizabethtown Police Department on behalf of the Radcliff-Elizabethtown Metropolitan Planning Organization, indicates the connector would cost more than $150,000 per year to operate while the two circulators would cost in excess of $400,000 to operate annually. She estimated an operating cost of $75 per hour.

“So not an insignificant amount of money,” Townsend said.

Public transportation systems typically are operated by federal funding and local government matching money, she said. Some states offer operating money to transportation systems, she said, but Kentucky is not one of them.

Townsend suggested the county move forward with the plan as a pilot project subject to cuts or expansions. This, in turn, would require a 45 percent local match with half of the cost covered by federal resources and the remaining 5 percent paid through fares.

Townsend’s report follows a general survey distributed online and through the Lincoln Trail Area Development District, which gauged the public’s interest in a transportation system.

About 70 people responded, more than half of whom said they have a need for public transportation for employment, medical, shopping or other needs.

Of respondents, around 87 percent said they would use a transportation system if one were available, with the greatest need for the system coming through the week.

Those who responded lobbied for a regularly scheduled bus route with fares between $1 and $2. More than half who took the survey also said they would support a local tax to pay for it, according to Townsend’s report.

“That’s kind of surprising,” she said. “It’s a good sign. Putting it on a survey and putting it on a ballot are two different things.”

The public hearing Thursday evening was sparsely attended — about a half dozen residents showed up for the presentation — and some of those in attendance questioned the effort to publicize the survey.

Lela Williams, a Radcliff resident, said offering a survey in a primarily online format could dissuade seniors, arguably the largest user base of public transportation, from weighing in.

Williams said she attended the meeting not to start a movement but because of her individual passion for public transportation options.

“It’s been an issue for the past few years,” she said. “As I get older, I think about it.”

While there are taxi companies and transit services through the Transit Authority of Central Kentucky, proponents of a bus system say there is a dearth of low-cost options in Hardin County.

“If I have to park my car, I’m stuck,” Williams said.

Michael Mullarkey, one of the most outspoken advocates for public transportation, said he believes there is a sense of complacency and apathy at work among elected officials when public transportation is discussed, referencing Fort Knox’s use of transit.

Mullarkey contends grants and resources are available to help offset startup and operating expenses if officials are willing to pursue them, but he said most don’t seem to care.

“I think that’s the attitude they have,” he said.

Mike Skaggs, a transportation planner for the Lincoln Trail Area Development District, said The Corradino Group will finalize its report and present it to the MPO’s policy committee for approval, which could come as early as next month. From there, it will be the responsibility of public officials who comprise the board to take up the cause for public transportation, he said.

“It will (fall) to them where we go from here,” Skaggs said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.