A $48 million plan to bring Fresno new buses

FRESNO, Calif.

The bus stop at Manchester Center in Fresno, as well as and many others, would be converted into a modern transit station with elevated platforms and automated ticket dispensers, as part of the new system that will cut travel times down on Blackstone and along Kings Canyon; the city's two busiest bus routes. That is if a divided city council keeps voting for it.

Fresno Bus Rapid Transit System would be modeled after the swift bus system in Everett, Wash.

60 foot buses that bend in the middle would accommodate more passengers; move down designated lanes through faster signals picking up passengers every ten minutes.

Fresno Transportation Director Ken Hamm said, "We believe it will increase rider-ship substantially and we also believe it's a better product for those riding now."

Hamm told the City Council construction would start next year, with the buses running along Blackstone and the Kings Canyon Ventura corridor in two years. The Federal Government would pick up the $48 million dollar cost of construction. Some council members including Clint Olivier wanted assurance that the government money would come.

Hamm assured the council the Federal Transportation Administration funds will be secured if the council approves each step of the project. Union Representative Rick Steitz for the city's bus drivers urged caution, noting his drivers just had a 3 percent pay cut forced on them because the city claimed it couldn't count on government funding.

"Four or five weeks ago in city council during labor negotiations when we had a labor agreement imposed on us there were major concerns about federal and state funds coming to the city, it was a big question, " Steitz said.

Hamm says the funding source for the construction is assured, and funds from the state and the Air Pollution Control District and other grant sources would cover the nearly $2 million a year in operating costs.

"It's an exciting opportunity to use a funding stream that's available to raise the bar for us in transit here," Hamm said.

Despite getting the whole project paid for, three of the seven council members were not excited. Olivier, Sal Quintero and Steve Brandau voted not to approve the environmental impact statement. The fact a majority approved means the project moves forward, and if the project clears a few more city council votes the buses could be running in two years.

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