Shorter bus trips for Salem residents, less pollution among transit plans for infrastructure dollars

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The federal infrastructure bill approved last week will send millions of additional Cherriots over the next five years. The money will help long-delayed plans for a transit hub south of Salem, which would mean easier connections to destinations like Amazon’s warehouse in the city’s southeast.

Riders board the back of the Cherriots bus at the downtown Salem transit hub (Ron Cooper / Salem Reporter)

It’s a 10-minute drive from the South Gateway neighborhood of Salem to Amazon’s sprawling distribution hub off Highway 22 which employs hundreds of local residents.

But the same Cherriots bus ride takes over an hour, forcing passengers to travel south from Salem to the downtown transit hub and transfer buses twice before heading back south along Lancaster Drive. .

Improving this service for residents of southern Salem has long been a goal of the Salem Area Transit District, better known as Cherriots. Now, with the passage of the $ 1 trillion federal infrastructure bill last week, they are taking it one step further.

The Cherriots will see an influx of new money: a total of $ 32.8 million over five years. That’s $ 8.3 million more than what the agency would normally have received from the federal government, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The agency planned to spend around $ 75 million for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, so the funds represent a substantial increase.

“We were thrilled because it now gives us some certainty that the funds will arrive in our district,” said Allan Pollock, Managing Director of Cherriots.

Pollock and Cherriots chairman of the board, Ian Davidson, said construction of a long-delayed transit hub south of Salem is high on their wishlist as they consider spending additional funds , although the decisions have yet to be taken by the agency’s board of directors.

Plans to build a transit hub in southern Salem stalled in 2019 after negotiations failed to result in a deal to build a Walmart parking lot and the district ran out of money from the state.

The center would allow the agency to offer more routes directly serving southern Salem, such as a link service connecting directly to the Amazon center.

Pollack said Cherriots leaders gathered community feedback on possible locations after the 2019 dropout. He hopes to publicly present possible options in the spring and said the center could be up and running in about three years, though ‘there is substantial uncertainty without a site being chosen or acquired.

“The schedule has sped up a bit because of the transportation bill,” Pollack said of south central Salem.

Davidson said the extra money also gives Cherriots a way forward to meet its emissions targets, reduce the amount of pollution Salem residents breathe along bus routes, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. city ​​greenhouse.

The board has set a goal of having a zero-emission bus fleet by 2040 and received a federal grant of $ 6.3 million earlier this year to purchase its first electric buses. But funding for a full fleet transition has remained elusive.

“The big unknown was: if this is our plan, how do we execute it? Davidson said.

New federal dollars are one possible source of funding.

Other possible items include a possible transit hub east of Salem, repairs or upgrades to the existing bus fleet. Agency executives recently began a strategic planning process to set longer-term goals for how the agency can best get Salem residents where they need to go, and Davidson said the money federal government would help achieve the goals they set for themselves.

“Now is a good time to think about what the Cherriots will be, the Cherriots of the future,” he said. “It will be an involved community.”

Although the bill’s spending on traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges overshadows what is allocated to transit, Davidson said there was enthusiasm among transit advocates over the issues. possibilities to come.

He and Pollack are in Orlando this week to attend an American Public Transit Association conference. Davidson said the energy of the conference was at odds with the pedestrian setting of a hotel ballroom, with standing ovations occasionally erupting as speakers discussed the bill’s impacts on infrastructure.

“People are very excited about this generational investment in public transit. Public transport has been under-invested for too long, ”he said. “The mood here is generally quite jubilant.”

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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