WASHINGTON CITY – Public transportation was the topic of conversation had between the Washington City mayor and city residents during an informal breakfast meeting Thursday morning.
“Public transportation in Washington City is inevitable,” Mayor Ken Neilson told the small group gathered around the table at the Washington City Hall. Each resident responded to a city notice given through social media to attend the breakfast and discuss the potential pros and cons of bringing public transit to the city. The breakfast itself is the first in a series the mayor plans to have throughout the year on various issues affecting the city.
Levi Roberts, a transportation planner with the Five County Association of Governments, said a study of public transportation needs in the county identified a primary and demonstrated need for public transit in Washington City.
Though meeting participants were generally in favor of seeing the city have public transit, a question of funding was a primary concern.
“Our big deal is funding,” Neilson said.
Roberts said the city can apply for federal grants from the federal government to cover 80 percent of a route’s start-up costs, and 50 percent of the operating and maintenance costs afterward. These grants are usually good for five years, he said.
As for city’s portion of funding public transportation, Roberts said some cities fund their public buses by devoting a percentage of their sales tax revenue to it. In Logan, he said, the public bus system is near-entirely funded by 0.25 percent of the city’s sales tax.
Thus far, bringing public transit to Washington is in the very preliminary stages, Neilson said. Discussions need to progress and money needs to be budgeted accordingly.
Setting the money aside for public transit could take some time, Washington City Manager Roger Carter said, as the city has other needs to be addressed, such as pending road issues and other issues.
“We’ve got a lot of places to place very limited resources,” Carter said.
There has been some discussion between Washington and SunTran, St. George’s public transit service, about expanding bus service into the city. If SunTran expands, Washington may enter into an interlocal agreement similar to the one Ivins and St. George did last year.
As a part of the agreement between the cities, Ivins bought a bus for the newly created route. The bus ran $370,000. In addition, Ivins will also pay $122,000 to St. George for maintenance of the route and bus for the first year, followed by $27,000 annually. Costs are offset by federal grants accordingly. The Ivins route is anticipated to start in early 2015.
Preliminary cost estimates for a potential Washington route have been provided to the city by SunTran, Carter said. Those estimates are subject to change as the discussions evolves and details are refined.
So far the city has only asked the public a question about public transit, Carter said, noting that multiple surveys on the matter have been general positive. The next point is to sell the idea, he said.
One possible way to sell the idea of using public transit is by educating commuters on how much money they could be saving, Roberts said. People who drive everywhere can potentially save between $6,000-$10,000 annually, he said.
As for locations for possible route stops, Neilson previously stated he would like to see stops at the Wal-Mart shopping center, Washington City Community Center, and Coral Canyon areas.
Currently the nearest SunTran comes to Washington is a stop at Deseret Industries. Roberts said people who live in Washington walk and bike to that location so they can ride the bus into St. George.
For the immediate future the discussion will continue. Carter said the city will soon be rolling out a website to the public dedicated to the matter so that people can visit it and offer comments.
“It’s a topic that’s not going away, and we don’t want it to go away,” Neilson said.
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