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Transit authority has big plans for bill's expected funds

| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 8:04 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Buses line up last week at the Butler Transit Authority on Hollywood Drive in Butler. Passage of a transportation funding bill should free the authority to use another $1.7 million from the state to to pay for a natural gas fueling station for the public, a park-and-ride lot and other upgrades at the authority’s facility. The money, which would be matched with millions in federal dollars, also would go to buy four natural-gas powered buses.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
A bus waits last week at the Butler Transit Authority on Hollywood Drive in Butler. Passage of a transportation funding bill should free the authority to use another $1.7 million from the state to to pay for a natural gas fueling station for the public, a park-and-ride lot and other upgrades at the authority’s facility. The money, which would be matched with millions in federal dollars, also would go to buy four natural-gas powered buses.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
A bus waits last week at the Butler Transit Authority on Hollywood Drive in Butler. Passage of a transportation funding bill should free the authority to use another $1.7 million from the state to to pay for a natural gas fueling station for the public, a park-and-ride lot and other upgrades at the authority’s facility. The money, which would be matched with millions in federal dollars, also would go to buy four natural-gas powered buses.

The landmark transportation bill that's expected to pump billions of dollars into repairing and maintaining Pennsylvania's roads and bridges likely will help transform the Butler Transit Authority, its executive director said.

“This is all part of the grand plan to help Butler County residents access employment in Pittsburgh,” John Paul said.

Transit agencies — the biggest of which are SEPTA in Philadelphia and Port Authority of Allegheny County — stand to get millions in funding during the next five years. The Butler Transit Authority expects to receive $1.2 million to replace two buses in 2015 and four others in 2019 with natural gas powered buses, resulting in significant fuel savings.

Passage of the transportation bill is even more important to Butler County because it frees the authority to use $1.7 million fmore rom the state to pay for a natural gas fueling station for the public, a park-and-ride lot and other upgrades at the authority's Hollywood Drive facility. The money, which would be matched with millions in federal dollars, would go to buy four natural-gas powered buses separate from the transportation bill.

The authority is not assured of receiving the money, but Paul said he'll meet with state Deputy Transportation Secretary Toby Fauver in January.

“It was a huge, huge boost to move this project forward,” Paul said. “The final piece is that PennDOT releases the money. They still have to agree to release it.”

The agency would use $600,000 to receive $2.4 million in federal funding for the natural gas fueling station and renovations needed to store natural gas vehicles. Construction could begin next year, Paul said.

About $575,000 would help match $2.2 million in federal money for four 45-foot coach buses powered by natural gas that will provide express service to Pittsburgh's North Shore, with several stops in southern Butler County planned, including Forward, Evans City and Harmony. A round trip could cost $8 to $10, depending on the departure and arrival points in Butler County.

“It should be pretty efficient,” Paul said.

The authority is expanding a park-and-ride lot along Route 528 in Jackson as part of the plan to provide service between Butler County and Pittsburgh.

About $575,000 in state money would secure $2.3 million in federal money, which is expected to pay for 80 to 100 park-and-ride spaces at the Hollywood Drive facility, an interior waiting area for passengers and a training room for drivers.

The natural gas station could be finished by the end of 2014, Paul said. Construction on the park-and-ride spaces could begin in 2015.

“This is going to change a lot of things in Butler County,” county commission Chairman William McCarrier said. “It will give people the opportunity to purchase gas-powered cars and fill up here, and it will provide a market for the natural gas we're producing in Butler County.”

Through September, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Agency had issued permits for 126 unconventional wells, used to extract natural gas, and 13 conventional wells, mainly used to drill for oil, in Butler County.

“This is a wise use of tax dollars to have a cleaner, efficient transit system,” said State Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango, who helped the authority with the application for the bond money.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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