to The bus stops here: City doesn't want developers to drive a transit system that one day may include 147 stops in Destin
Apr 17, 2010 (Destin Log - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The city has big plans to construct 147 transit stops in Destin, but the cost to expand public transportation in the city is too big for Okaloosa County Transit right now.
"Since 2007, our budget has been cut at least 10 percent each year," said Okaloosa County Transit Coordinator and Grants Manager Lani Birchett. "We do want expansion, but the obstacle is funding."
The City Council passed a motion to have Tetra Tech finalize the design for the nautically themed bus stops during an April 5 meeting. Councilman Dewey Destin cast the only vote against the motion.
He said the plan to spend about $2.5 million on the stops, which would run between $15,000 and $18,000 each, is "ill conceived." He added that the county provides the only bus service in Destin, and every year there is a big debate over whether or not the service will continue.
"It's just a bad idea in this economy to put that burden on the people doing business," he said. "But it's all being done because of the multi-modal scheme that we worked out, and I understand that."
The city developed the multi-modal transportation plan, which includes plans for bike lanes and wider sidewalks, about a year ago in an effort to "provide a safer means of getting around the city without actually having to get in the car and drive." In addition to adding transit stops around town, the plan also calls for creating more of a grid system by connecting roadways in the city to relieve traffic congestion on U.S. Highway 98.
In regard to Destin's concerns about the future of transit service in the city, Birchett said there are no plans currently to cut funding for the three bus routes, 30, 32 and 33, operating in Destin. She said the county recently cut their Saturday service due to funding constraints, and in January of 2009 fares were raised from 50 cents to $1 to compensate for lost funding.
"It is in Okaloosa County's long-term development plan to provide more service in Destin," she said, adding that it will take many years to implement the city's full transit plan. "We've been talking with the city of Destin to create a partnership with them to start a new route in March 2011."
She said the route, which would run along Matthew Boulevard and Scenic Highway 98, would be the first step in the "step by step process" of expansion. It costs about $35 to $40 per service hour to run one bus route, and that doesn't include capital costs such as new buses.
At the recent meeting, Councilman Larry Williges also voiced concerns about the cost of the stops.
"The cost of thisaEUR I think it would be staggering," he said. "And I don't know where these 147 stops would be."
City Manager Greg Kisela said the city has already determined potential locations for the stops. So far, the groundwork has been laid for two stops on Commons Drive, and a third is under construction on Scenic Highway 98.
He said that since improvements are being made on Mountain Drive, the city will also lay the foundations for nine stops on that roadway. When funding for service is acquired, workers will go back and add the "vertical" elements, the cover and benches.
"Mountain Drive may have service by next year," he added. "But to have a fully operational transit system in DestinaEUR I can assure you it won't be in my lifetime."
He added that it was important for the city to take a "proactive approach" to transportation in Destin because the city doesn't want developers to guide the development of a cohesive system. He said the new system will be "more visitor-focused than employee-focused."
"It all stems from the adoption of our multimodal transportation district regulations," said Community Development Director Ken Gallander. "Our transportation consultant did a transit stop study to determine the most appropriate locations for stops based on potential ridership."
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