September 18, 2014

Elyria
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Transit’s future rests in Washington plea

ELYRIA — The eventual fate of countywide busing continues to hang in the balance, even as county officials prepare to plead their case in Washington, D.C.

Lorain County Administrator James Cordes said information outlining the transit system’s plight was to be delivered today to the offices of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood with the eventual hope of federal officials being able to provide some funds to keep Lorain County Transit running.

Those relying on LCT buses range from LCCC students and older people to those on public assistance who lack any other way of getting to work or doctors’ appointments or to a store.

The county antes up about $500,000, or one-tenth of the roughly $5 million needed to run the bus system. The remainder is paid by state and federal money and fares.

Last week, commissioners decided to do away with LCT’s fixed-route runs as of Dec. 31, saying they could not afford to provide the $500,000 in light of the county’s current budget crisis.

In addition to asking for help from LaHood, U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Township, also is working to put together a jobs bill that includes money for mass transit.

Sutton sent letters this week to David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, and Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who chairs the U.S. House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, seeking approval for LCT to use $1.5 million in untapped American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds to operate the bus system.

“We hope new appropriations bills can be OK’d by year’s end that will let us use this unspent capital money,” Cordes said. “We’re trying to avert a total shutdown.”

Officials have said it is vital for the county to maintain some form of public transportation to remain eligible for federal transportation funds.

Commissioner Lori Kokoski on Thursday asked whether any portion of approximately $95,000 in change orders for the proposed county transportation center in the old New York Central depot on Depot Street could be diverted to help run the transit system.

“I just feel for those people who rely on the transit system,’’ she said. “It’s looking pretty desperate for anyone who uses the buses to get around every day.”

Kokoski was told by Cordes that the money, which is being used to relocate stairs and concrete ramps at the old depot after Norfolk-Southern said those tunnels won’t be used by passengers to access trains, already has been contracted.

“That’s not to say you couldn’t cancel work in progress, but that might pose other problems at this point,” Cordes said.

Some $400,000 of roughly $4.4 million set aside for the train depot work was permitted to be used last summer to help operate county buses.

County officials have said that the failure of a 0.5 percent sales tax hike last month will require $2 million to $4 million in county general fund cuts next year on top of the $6.5 million and 75-plus jobs already slashed.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.