Butler County RTA gets $2 million more for new transportation hub

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The Butler County Regional Transit Authority has secured another $2 million in federal funding to build an $11 million transportation hub in Oxford.

The Federal Transportation Authority received 282 applications totaling approximately $1.8 billion in funding requests, from 51 states and territories. The FTA awarded $464 million, including three grants to transit systems in Ohio totaling $6.8 million.

Matt Dutkevicz, BCRTA executive director, said the estimated $11 million project includes building a station and adding more parking a maintenance facility and other amenities that can be shared with a future Amtrak stop and bike trails. The facility would be on Chestnut Street on the old Talawanda High School site.

“We applied to the same program a couple years go when we didn’t have any money for this project, and our first award was $2.6 million, this is another $2 million, we have about $4.5 million from OKI, plus BCRTA and Miami have some local money in the pot,” Dutkevicz said. “So this gets us pretty close to the finish line.”

He said BCRTA makes more than 500,000 trips annually to Oxford, often bringing students and employees from other areas. It doesn’t have any facilities there now, and it will save money being able to house buses and do their maintenance, rather than having to bring the equipment to Hamilton.

Officials hope to start construction late next year or early 2022 and complete all phases by 2024.

Jessica Greene, Oxford’s assistant city manager, said the city continues to work with Amtrak to get a train stop there, and it would be located next to this facility so the restrooms and other amenities can be shared.

She said they are working with BCRTA on a joint request for proposals so they can apply for a Federal Rail Administration grant.

“It (the train) goes through, it doesn’t stop,” Greene said. “It currently just flies by and we’re asking them to stop.

“Several years ago back in 2015 we were really moving along, and Amtrak was really communicating we had the right kind of ridership for a Level 4 platform, which is basically a platform and a kiosk it’s not a staffed station. It’s been five years but we have been in communication with Amtrak and they are still expressing interest.”

She said the multimodal station will help residents and others use alternate transportation to clear the streets that are crowded when Miami is in session. She said the streets are busy now as off-campus students are moving in for the fall semester.

“One of our goals from a climate perspective too is to decrease vehicular traffic, so what can we build in our community that will allow for people to get around either via public transit, or bike or walking,” she said.

RTA ridership fell off drastically when the shut down orders were issued but Dutkevicz said numbers have been rising, especially for their door-to-door Uber-type service.

“We’re still moving a fair amount of people on the regional routes, you know people have got to get to work and we move a lot of essential workers anyway, people who are working distribution centers, grocery stores, medical,” Dutekvicz said.

The RTA has taken a number of precautions — deep cleaning daily and drivers wipe things down between trips —in order to ensure safety as much as possible, though the six-foot distancing rule has been a challenge.

“Social distancing is difficult if Miami is coming back in September, we just don’t have enough equipment,” he said. “We provide a lot of rides up there and social distancing would require us to have six times the amount of buses that we have now to accommodate the distance that most people want, so we’re trying to figure out ways we can change that to get people to change their schedules.”

He said they are exploring other ways, like using bigger buses and special ultraviolet light air handling system onboard the fleet, to provide distance.

The transit authority received $5.8 million in federal coronavirus relief funding, which Dutekvicz said might sound like a lot, but since they know no more transportation money will be forthcoming, the money has to last until the crisis is over. They have a $6 million annual budget to support and they have tried to keep drivers employed. Plus there have been many added costs for personal protective equipment and sanitizing everything.

His board suspended fares at the start of the pandemic until October so money doesn’t have to change hands. They do charge for door-to-door because credit cards can be used.

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