Friday, December 21, 2012

Mountain Rides scratches Bellevue transit center

Organization planning to reduce bus service to Bellevue


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

The Mountain Rides board of directors, shown here at Wednesday’s board meeting, consists of two representatives each from the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, one each from the cities of Bellevue and Hailey, one from Blaine County and one at-large representative nominated for the position by Friends of Mountain Rides, a nonprofit support organization. From left are Steve Wolper, at-large; Jim Jaquet, Blaine County; Joe Miczulski, Bellevue; board Chair Peter Everett, Ketchum; Mark Gilbert, Sun Valley; Michael David, Ketchum; and Vice Chair Susan McBryant, Hailey. Not shown is board member Nils Ribi, representing Sun Valley. Photo by Roland Lane

Mountain Rides Transportation Authority announced Wednesday that it is cancelling plans to build a south valley transportation center in Bellevue, and that the organization is putting together a plan to reduce commuter bus service to the city.

Rather than building a new transportation center in Bellevue, Mountain Rides is now looking at doing it in Hailey.

“There is some light at the end of the tunnel because we have Hailey very anxious to work with us,” Mountain Rides board Chair Peter Everett said at a meeting of the board of directors Wednesday.

Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller said Hailey officials have already approached the organization about a transportation center in that city and are helping the organization identify possible sites, most likely in the vicinity of Friedman Memorial Airport.

Cancellation of the Bellevue proposal follows a Dec. 6 decision by the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission to not amend a city zoning ordinance to allow use of a 2.97-acre parcel as a Mountain Rides transportation center. The property in question is near the intersection of state Highway 75 and Gannett Road in south Bellevue.

Miller said earlier that he hoped the Bellevue City Council would override the decision of the P&Z, but Mountain Rides Business Manager Wendy Crosby said Wednesday that the organization has since learned the City Council will not reconsider the P&Z’s decision.

Mountain Rides has been working toward building a south valley transportation center in Bellevue for the past few years. In September, the organization made a $780,000 offer to property owner Gannett 75 LLC for the property in question, but that offer was contingent upon the city’s amending its zoning law.

A south valley transportation center, if built, would serve as a hub for the Mountain Rides Valley Route bus service that provides daily transportation between Bellevue and Hailey and north to Ketchum and Sun Valley. Mountain Rides currently rents space on south Woodside Boulevard in Hailey to park buses that start their trips daily in Bellevue. Mountain Rides has argued that having a transportation center in Bellevue would save the organization $60,000 per year in shuttling empty buses back and forth between Hailey and Bellevue to start their daily routes.

In addition to housing Mountain Rides buses, a south valley transportation center would also provide a bus maintenance facility and waiting area, and a park and ride for northbound commuters.

Besides the Valley Route, which is a paid fare system, Mountain Rides provides free around-town bus service in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area and in Hailey.

With the $60,000 savings now gone, at least for the immediate future, and since the city of Bellevue has contributed nothing for the past two years toward Mountain Rides operations, Miller said the organization is now putting together a plan to reduce bus service to Bellevue. He said he plans to submit the plan to the Mountain Rides board of directors as early as January.

Officially, Bellevue is a Mountain Rides “funding partner.” However, board member Steve Wolper noted that the city has contributed a total of only $6,000 to the organization since Mountain Rides was founded in 2007.

While Mountain Rides relies heavily on federal grant dollars administered through the Idaho Transportation Department, about half the organization’s annual budget comes from funding partners, including the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey, Blaine County and Sun Valley Co.

The city of Ketchum remains the largest contributor, providing more than $522,000 this fiscal year alone for Mountain Rides operations. Contributions this year from other funding partners were $250,000 from the city of Sun Valley, $123,500 from Blaine County, $65,000 from the city of Hailey and $175,000 from Sun Valley Co.

With Bellevue contributing nothing during the past few years and rejecting the south valley transportation center proposal, Miller said Mountain Rides is now in the position of matching contributions to services for the city.

Members of the board of directors seemed agreeable to Miller’s position.

“I think the decision by Bellevue represents a lack of appreciation of the service,” Wolper said.

“I think the citizens of Bellevue need to realize what everybody else is doing to pay for them,” Everett said.

Board member Jim Jaquet, who represents Blaine County on the board, said that since the county contribution to Mountain Rides comes from property tax revenues, the county would not want to see Bellevue bus service eliminated entirely.

“It probably won’t be the level of service we have now unless Bellevue wants to help pay for it,” Jaquet said.

Though bus schedules vary through peak and slack times in the Wood River Valley, Mountain Rides is currently providing 17 roundtrip bus trips per weekday and seven per weekend between Bellevue and the north valley. A change in routing to Bellevue would mean that many of those bus trips would instead start or terminate in Hailey.


Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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