This year is shaping up to one of the biggest in the Butler Area Transit Authority history.
By year’s end, the Transit Authority — which currently operates a bus service primarily within the central part of Butler County — expects to begin a Butler-to-Pittsburgh mass transit service that will use a new fleet powered by natural gas.
It's based at a new fueling system on the authority’s Butler Township facility servicing commuters who can park their personal vehicles at an expanded park-n-ride lot that’s under construction in Jackson.
“This is going to be a big year for us,’’ said John Paul, executive director.
The project has been envisioned for years but shifted into high gear with the passage of a state capital bond bill and a transportation bill late last year.
“That’s what we needed to have happen,” he said. Financing is in place for the multimillion dollar project. The final step is release of the funding by the state department of transportation, which Mr. Paul expects to happen in increments. The project will be the subject of a meeting with PennDOT officials later this month.
Each of the prongs of the project are advancing. Mr. Paul said the compressed natural gas facility that will be needed to fuel the new natural-gas-powered buses is to be operational by the end of the year. This project, which entails upgrades to the transit authority property and construction of a garage to house the new vehicles, will cost a little less than $9 million.
The six 45-foot coach buses that will be purchased — four will increase the size of the fleet and two will replace existing vehicles — have only to be ordered from an identified vendor. Each bus will cost about $750,000.
The park-n-ride lot in Jackson at the intersection of Route 528 and Route 19 is under construction now and is being expanded from a 100-car capacity to more than 300-car capacity. That project also entails construction of a left-turn lane coming from the east onto southbound Interstate 79. The total project cost of this piece is $1.875 million, $1.475 for the parking lot. The existing park-n-ride lot is owned by PennDOT, but the Transit Authority purchased an adjacent 5 acres for about $360,000 in January 2012. The bigger lot will be co-owned by both entities. Construction began in October.
Once all the pieces are in place, the Butler Area Transit Authority will begin a daily service that will entail the new buses traveling along the Route 68 corridor to Interstate 79 to I-279 to the North Shore, where passengers would be loaded and unloaded at the T-station there.
Funding for all the components have come from a variety of sources, federal, state, county and Transit Authority. The biggest sticking point until now was the capital bond bill that was approved by the state Legislature and signed by the governor in November. It was the first bond bill that won a governor’s signature since 2005.
“We’ve gotten different monies [pledged] at different times under different programs. There are a variety of buckets [of funding]. But, we needed the bond bill so the funding could be allocated and so PennDOT could release it,” he said.
Mr. Paul said it may be too ambitious to hope that all components of the project will be in place in 2014, but he said he believes enough will be completed to start the new transit service.
The project has been in the planning stages for four years.
“We haven’t done anything even close to this in terms of the size of the project. It takes time and patience to move projects of this scope forward,” he said.
Procuring the buses was accomplished last year via a consortium made up of authorities in Westmoreland, Beaver and York counties. “The buses already have been bid. We just have to place the order,” Mr. Paul said.
He said the new service was identified as a top priority because of its economic benefit to the people of central Butler County — while it also will serve the needs of commuters to Pittsburgh from the southern tier of the county who want to drive north to use the park-n-ride lot. “Currently, people from the central part of the county have few options to get into Pittsburgh besides driving,” he said.
Karen Kane: firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-772-9180.
Karen Kane: email@example.com or at 724-772-9180.