Hillsborough is developing its first town bus route thanks to funds from a federal grant.
A three-year Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant will fund a free bus route through the town, said Karen Lincoln, Orange County’s transportation planner.
“We don’t have an official start date, but we’re anticipating starting this in May,” Lincoln said.
The route will make it possible to travel between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough by connecting with Triangle Transit’s 420 route at the Orange County campus of Durham Technical Community College, said Orange County Planning Director Craig Benedict.
Other stops include the Triangle Sportsplex and Central Orange Senior Center, the Walmart at Hampton Pointe shopping center and the Orange County Main Library.
Though the county is receiving funding assistance through the grant, it must budget funding for the project while the N.C. Department of Transportation provides reimbursement for the costs every year.
The first year’s operating costs of about$109,400 will be covered completely by federal and state funds.
Eighty percent of the costs for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 — about $115,000 and $121,000, respectively — will be paid through federal funds. The remaining 20 percent will be paid by the town of Hillsborough.
Lincoln said Hillsborough originally applied for the grant in 2004 but did not receive it. The town received the grant last year after resubmitting an application emphasizing the benefits of reduced emissions from decreased traffic within Hillsborough, she said.
The Hillsborough Town Board approved a formal agreement setting a plan of action for the bus route through the next three years at a March 14 meeting.
Benedict said if the Orange County Board of Commissioners signs the agreement at a meeting April 5, the next step will be to develop a marketing campaign.
Issues discussed at the last town board meeting included concerns about the route making stops at grocery stores and the possibility of having two buses traveling in opposite directions to reduce the wait-time of round trips, said Hillsborough Town Commissioner Mike Gering.
But the bus route may not stay free forever, he said.
“Certainly for the initial period, it’s going to be free because we want to get an idea of what the real demand is,” Gering said.
“It’s hard for me to project a free service indefinitely simply because we run a tight ship in Hillsborough and don’t have any access funds, so it will be hard to justify,” Gering said.
He said the county will record how many and where residents ride the bus during the initial months to better understand the best options for the route.
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