Funding sought for twice-daily bus service to Apache Junction

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Regular bus service to and from Apache Junction could begin in 2020 with money from the state of Arizona’s General Fund.

Rep. Kelly Townsend has introduced House Bill 2266, which would appropriate $200,000 a year for two years for the Arizona Department of Transportation to fund the buses through the regional public transportation authority.

House Bill 2266 on Feb. 12 was referred to the appropriations committee, after already being passed at the transportation committee.

Regular bus service is desperately needed and would be enhanced if a Dial-a-Ride program could be added, Apache Junction resident Heidi A. Robinson said.

“There are so many people who are basically stranded, it would leave you in shock,” Mrs. Robinson said.

“I am. And I have two other neighbors who are. One walks her 12-year-old to and from school. Not just to protect her, rather, because like myself, she feels locked in. It’s very uncomfortable and inconvenient if you were to think of yourself in that situation,” she said.

“I am reasonably certain that many citizens would be taking one family member or another to a bus stop, or picking someone up who they hadn’t seen in a very long time,” Mrs. Robinson said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Dial-a-Ride service is needed, she said.

“One suggestion. There are many people of all ages unable to go anywhere without one, ‘Dial-a-Ride.’ For transportation to and from physicians, or even the chance to find work, which they were previously unable to do, as many have disabilities stopping them from working, or even shopping,” Mrs. Robinson said.

Dial-a-Ride complements the existing Valley Metro transit system by providing transportation to people who are unable to utilize local bus service due to a disability, according to valleymetro.org/dial-ride.

“I, myself, would love to be able to catch a ‘Dial-a-Ride,’ just to get to the new shops where the old Fry’s used to be. Or travel further to shop for other needed items,” Mrs. Robinson said.

Funding sought

Rep. Townsend, R-District 16, who is running for Arizona senate reelection this year, announced in Facebook discussion posts that she is seeking the funding “to give a gift to Apache Junction.” She has been in the House since 2013.

“So everyone knows, I have introduced a bill that requests funding for a twice-a-day bus route deep into Apache Junction,” she wrote.

“We made sure that it would go all the way to downtown and would run once in the morning and once in the evening --- starting small to see how it goes. We will see if we can get the funding for this and we should know by March,” she said.

“It is hard to say if it makes it, there are a lot of competing projects. This is the first time I have ever asked for this much and this is my last year in the House --- I am running for the Senate --- so I decided I wanted to give a gift to Apache Junction. Let’s hope it gets through,” she said.

Valley Metro rail ends at Gilbert Road in Mesa. Most buses go as far east as Power Road,, with route 30 to Sossaman Road and route 108 to Sunland Village East, which is about five miles from Apache Junction and the Maricopa/Pinal county line, according to a map at valleymetro.org.

House Bill 2266 states: “Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Arizona .... The sum of $200,000 is appropriated from the state General Fund in each of fiscal years 2020-21 and 2021-22 to the Department of Transportation to distribute to the regional public transportation authority established by section 48-5102, Arizona Revised Statutes, to extend bus routes to Apache Junction.”

To establish the bus after the two years, she has included a recommendation that a study be done for the long-term funding, according to the bill’s language.

“On or before Dec. 31, 2022, the department shall submit an assessment of the long-term efficacy of extending the bus routes and a recommendation for long-term funding of the bus routes to the governor, the president of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives. The department shall submit a copy of the assessment to the secretary of state,” the bill states.

Local reaction

Apache Junction Vice Mayor Chip Wilson said the municipality is willing to assist Rep. Townsend with local public transportation needs.

“We, at the city, are willing to sit down with State Rep. Townsend and become fully informed and understand how this will assist the city and its residents. We will work with her to meet the public transportation needs of our community and other communities throughout the Valley,” he said.

A permanent funding source is needed, Vice Mayor Wilson and Councilmember Christa Rizzi said.

“Not only the issue of a public transportation service but we must also address the permanent funding that is needed to be fully addressed. We do appreciate her bringing up the subject of transportation and will work with her to meet the needs of Apache Junction and the other small communities in the Valley,” Vice Mayor Wilson said.

“My concern is always how the bus service will get funded,” Councilmember Rizzi said. “Bus service isn’t free and it’s not cheap. Great idea, but who’s going to pay when funding isn’t there? Rep. Townsend is terming out at the end of this year so two years from now when she’s no longer our local representative, what’s the plan to fund a bus service?”

She also questioned if the bus service would be utilized by residents.

“Should taxpayers or municipalities fund something that’s barely used? Historically the issue with getting the service to our community has been lack of riders and sustainability,” Councilmember Rizzi said. “We’d love to have bus service for those who would use it, the question remains who’s going to pay for it?”

Vision for the future

Any bus route into Apache Junction should start at Superstition Springs Mall on Power Road and be expanded through the city and eventually into Gold Canyon, local resident Mrs. Robinson said.

“I have long been concerned about a bus route in Apache Junction. The more it grows, the more the bus is needed. A main line running from the main connection at Superstition Springs Mall, or somewhere similar, up to, I would think, perhaps, the many physician offices on the road. However, I do know that many people go to the many businesses there,” she said. “As far as Apache Junction itself. A main-line run would serve every business on the (Apache) Trail, and many stemming off of the Trail.”

Her vision would be for it to include large parking lots also known as park-and-rides.

“From there many people could park, or walk locally, as there is no current bus available in the area. And others could park there to ride into and from AJ to work or shop,” Mrs. Robinson said.

“There should be a park-and-ride at either end of the main route. The end being the Gold Canyon Bashas’, turn to run up to a complex, or turn-around road loop, allowing for passengers on and off there. As well as yet more people from further into Pinal County parking at the Bashas’ to ride into Apache Junction to work or shop, or perhaps to travel to Signal Butte or Superstition Springs and back,” she said.

Apache Junction businesses will benefit from regular bus service, she said.

“This would generate income for virtually every business along the Trail, and give people looking to work or move here the opportunity to do so, Mrs. Robinson said.

“Basically, a lot of revenue, and happier population of Apache Junction. Of course there’s always those who get disgruntled about buses. But this is a growing city; perhaps where it wasn’t considered necessary before, it’s needed now,” she said.

A reliance on using a vehicle to get to work or to shop means gridlock is in the community’s future, she said.

“Wait too much longer, this city and area will either run into gridlock, or the reverse --- businesses shutting down due to lack of business, and/or people leaving --- due to the fact that this area is growing and has basically no means of transportation other than asking neighbors, anyone for a ride, with the most often answer of ‘No.’ A city of younger and elderly shut-ins,” Mrs. Robinson said.

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