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December 9, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

By KIM BARTO - Bulletin Staff Writer

People looked over a proposed bus route and shared suggestions for additional stops Monday night at a public information meeting about the transportation service that will launch in Henry County and Martinsville next month.

When the Piedmont Area Regional Transit (PART) system starts in January, people will be able to travel to a number of high-traffic locations for a $1 fare. Children under 6 will ride for free.

The 14-passenger bus, which will be accessible to disabled people and others, will run two routes in a loop through the county and city from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

Representatives from the county, city, state and RADAR of Roanoke, the nonprofit organization that will manage the public transportation system, answered questions and sought feedback from attendees Monday night. Comments will be taken into consideration when officials finalize the bus route in the coming weeks.

Henry County Planning Director Lee Clark said most of the questions he had heard Monday night dealt with the bus schedule and deviations from the route.

"We've had a few requests for service that's well outside the proposed routes," Clark said, adding that funding is the main barrier to adding more service.

"This is meant to serve the citizens. ... It's a quality of life service for folks, so if we can come up with the funding, we'll do it," he said.

Assistant City Manager Leon Towarnicki said there "seems to be some interest in a pass system" that could be used for multiple rides, instead of paying the $1 in exact change every time riders board the bus.

The idea will be investigated, Towarnicki said.

One suggestion came from Dick Ephgrave, representing the Grace Network of Martinsville and Henry County board of directors, who requested that the bus service add a stop at the Grace Network food pantry on Commonwealth Boulevard.

"We think a lot of our clients would certainly be able to take advantage of that bus route," Ephgrave said, adding that the organization will start surveying clients right away to gauge their interest and submit the results to Clark.

However, he said he was confident the route alteration would help many of the roughly 91 people Grace Network serves every day. People who use a food pantry cannot afford cars, he said.

"There's a lot of need in the community," Ephgrave said. "Especially with the Adult Day Care right next door, this would be a good decision."

The current proposed bus route travels from Hooker Street to Commonwealth Boulevard, bypassing the block near Hooker Field where the food pantry is located. Ephgrave's suggestion would have the bus go up Chatham Road and turn onto Commonwealth at Hooker Field instead.

"I drove it in under four minutes," Ephgrave said of the detour.

Henry County Supervisor Paula Burnette of the Iriswood District suggested, "If they're going to do that for Grace Network, we need to look at the Community Storehouse on Cleveland Avenue."

Burnette said a public transportation system "has been requested for a long time," and once more people learn about it, "I'm expecting the response to be really positive."

City council members also attended the session.

"We need mass transit," said council member Danny Turner. "This will be an opportunity for people in the community who cannot drive."

Jeannie Frisco came to the information session representing Activate Martinsville-Henry County to encourage officials to provide a place on the bus to secure bicycles.

Curtis Andrews, RADAR executive director, said it should be "pretty feasible" to install a bike rack on the front of the bus.

Andrews said overall he heard "very positive feedback" Monday.

"The problem is, we have one bus and a fairly large area to cover, and everyone wants it to stop at their door," Andrews said. "Hopefully, down the road we can expand the program."

Designated stops will be made four times daily under the proposed route and will target major retail areas, industrial parks, college campuses, medical practices and governmental offices.

People certified under the Americans with Disabilities Act will be able to request that the bus deviate from the route within three-quarters of a mile to make pickups or dropoffs when it does not hinder the bus' regular schedule, officials said.

Angie Feazelle of the organization dis-Abilities Unlimited said she thought the three-quarter mile deviation will help those with disabilities. However, Feazelle said she would extend part of the route.

"The main thing I don't like (about the route) is that it doesn't go far enough down Starling Avenue," Feazelle said.

Otherwise, she said, "I really like it. I hope and pray it'll be a huge success and that we'll quickly get another (bus)."

Samantha Griffith, independent living coordinator with the Henry County-Martinsville Department of Social Services, said DSS is "excited about this."

Having a local bus service would mean foster youth older than 18 could be placed out of foster homes and get experience living independently. Youth can stay in foster care until age 21, Griffith said.

"We want to give them the skills they need to live on their own, and transportation is a huge barrier," Griffith said.

(Don't know if you want to include details on the stops... This info also ran in the advance story and the one Thanksgiving Day:)

The planned route starts and ends at Walmart. Proposed stops in Henry County include StarTek, the Dutch Inn, Collinsville Shopping Center, the YMCA, Walgreens, the Henry County Administration Building and Courthouse, Hanes/Sara Lee, Hollie Drive, Patrick Henry Community College, Liberty Fair Mall and the Social Security office.

The proposed Martinsville route includes National College, Womack Electronics, the municipal building and Henry-Martinsville Social Services, Blue Ridge Regional Library, Virginia Museum of Natural History, Spruce Village, Carilion Medical Center, Food Lion on Brookdale Street, Virginia Employment Commission, Memorial Hospital, Liberty Fair Mall and the Social Security office.

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