City Council to research bus program plan before applying for funds

COVINGTON — A transportation plan needs to be mulled over before the Covington City Council decides to apply for a grant from the state Department of Transportation.

Vincent Passariello, city airport engineer, said there is about $100 million available for municipalities to start a busing program and it could be a one-time shot.

City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said the city has discussed and researched a transportation plan in the past but the council did not feel it was needed at the time. Mayor Ronnie Johnston was hesitant to move forward because of the many unanswered questions.

“Where are the needs? Where can it be utilized? A lot of work needs to be done before we apply for this grant,” Johnston said. “There may be some need, but applying for the grant with no plan is just like shooting in the dark.”

Councilman Keith Dalton said once the funding is used the city would then have to bear the costs of maintenance and paying the bus drivers. Councilwoman Janet Goodman said the council should give the idea more consideration. “Any way we can help our seniors, we should. We need to look at it before we say no,” said Goodman.

When the city considered the plan in 2011, Randy Conner, the city’s grant writer, informed the council the cost would weigh in about $76,000 annually, which did not include fuel and maintenance of the vehicles, to provide two public transit options: Job Access and Reverse Commute Program and the New Freedom Program.

The Job Access and Reverse Commute Program would provide transportation to residents who commute to Atlanta for their jobs. Residents could be transported from Newton County to the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority’s park and ride location at Springfield Baptist Church in Conyers.

The New Freedom Program would provide low-cost transportation to disabled residents ages 19 to 59 and seniors age 60 and older to and from doctor appointments, the drug store and grocery store. This service was previously offered by Newton County Senior Services but was discontinued due to budget cuts.

Conner said he would once again review the plans to get updated costs and present it to the council at the July 21 meeting.

“We don’t know when this grant funding will become available again. I think we should go ahead and apply and then do more studies,” Passariello said.

There is a 20 percent match for the grant, which is administered through the Atlanta Regional Commission, but Passariello said if the buses are handicap accessible, the match goes down to 10 percent. Also, if the buses are “green friendly” and operate on compressed natural gas, then the match would go down to 5 percent.

The deadline to apply for the grant is Aug. 4. The council agreed to review a bus program plan and reconsider applying for the grant at the July 21 meeting.