ST. GEORGE – At the top of the agenda at the Five County Association of Governments Regional Mobility Council meeting Wednesday was a presentation discussing options for a public transportation route that would connect St. George to Springdale.
The Zion Transportation System, which shuttles visitors up Zion Canyon and from various stops in Springdale to the Zion National Park entrance during peak visitation – April through October – has been a great example of the positives of public transportation, Springdale’s Director of Community Development Tom Dansie said. He added that a 2010 transit feasibility study demonstrated the tremendous demand and potential for a transit link between Springdale and St. George.
Not only would such a transportation system benefit St. George residents and Springdale workers, Dansie said, but it would help Springdale residents who can’t drive and need rides to St. George for medical appointments and other necessities.
“A lot of people just want to get to Wal-Mart,” said Lisa Rutherford, campaign manager for Paul Van Dam, a county commission candidate who is an advocate for public transportation and was in attendance at the meeting.
Use of van pools has been explored as a transit option to connect the two communities, Dansie said. However, that would not adequately meet the public transportation needs of all community members, he said.
Jamie Stewart, who is disabled, has become a champion for a public transportation connection between St. George and Springdale. She made a formal presentation to the council “from the heart of someone who is disabled,” she said. Quoting famous author and national park proponent Wallace Stegner, Stewart called Zion National Park her “geography of hope,” saying national parks and monuments are not equal access because the disabled sometimes have a hard time reaching them.
Stewart said there is a need for a transit link between Washington County’s largest city and Zion’s gateway community, and that such a service would be a boon to the disabled population. She said she hopes such a transit system will be in place for Zion’s 100th birthday in 2019.
SunTran Manager Fred Davies pointed out that St. George Express offers service between St. George and Springdale, but Levi Roberts, associate planner with the Five County Association of Governments, said St. George Express caters to tourists and is not on a regular schedule, which potential riders need.
Rutherford said a St. George/Springdale route would need reliable, low-cost service, which St. George Express could not satisfy. Rutherford touted the initiation of a pilot project to see how such a system would work.
Federal transit funds would be available for such a project, Roberts said, but those monies are becoming increasingly competitive and need a local match. Roberts suggested forming a coalition of cities along the route as a first step toward fulfilling that match.
The state legislature should get involved, Van Dam said. He advocated contacting local state representatives for their support. Susan Johnson, the council’s vice chair, agreed, saying if legislators see communities are working together, they will be more likely to fund such a project.
Transportation systems similar to what is being discussed between Springdale and St. George have worked in places like Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park because of the public support behind them, Rutherford said.
Jack Burns, Zion’s chief of concessions management, said it is critical to realize what resources are out there because there are many opportunities for funding and partnerships. Zion’s transportation system is an example of “build it and they will come,” he said, adding that all of Zion’s buses are ADA accessible.
In 2013, Zion recorded 2,100 wheelchair lifts on its buses, Burns said. Since the transportation system’s implementation in 2000, wheelchair lifts have increased 120 percent.
“People come expecting a ‘park and ride’ situation,” he said. “We spend a great deal of money to keep parks accessible.”
Burns said he hopes all the organizations involved in the proposed project will commit and make strides toward a feasible transportation plan linking Washington County’s largest city with its most popular tourist attraction, Zion, which draws approximately 3 million visitors each year.
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