Officials lobby LaHood to back START bus barn bucks
By Benjamin Graham, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
August 18, 2012
Jackson and Teton County officials capitalized on a visit last week by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood by personally asking him to back funding for a new START bus barn.
They think they got good news.
“He basically said, ‘I’m going to support you on this,’ ” Jackson Mayor Mark Barron said Friday.
While officials did not discuss specifics with LaHood, Barron called the brief meeting “encouraging.”
When LaHood asked Barron how much money was needed, the mayor told him about $20 million.
“We’ll follow up on it and see where it goes,” Barron said Friday.
START has secured $8 million of the estimated $30 million it needs for a new headquarters and bus barn, but additional cash has been difficult to find.
The headquarters will not appear on this year’s specific purpose excise tax ballot. In July, the bus service missed out on two federal grants.
START has also been denied four times for another federal boost under a program called a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant, an issue officials brought up with LaHood.
START Director Michael Wackerly said Friday that LaHood “got the word that we need help.”
Officials, along with Wackerly and Pathways Coordinator Brian Shilling, met with LaHood on Aug. 9 after a ribbon-cutting ceremony the secretary attended for the Jackson-to-Jenny Lake pathway. LaHood took a break from his family’s vacation in the park to attend the ceremony.
Details of the talks emerged at a START bus board meeting Thursday.
Board members agreed on a plan for phase one of the headquarters’ construction, but said they might wait to hear from LaHood before recommending the plan to officials.
“It’s a little contingent on the possibility of this new funding,” Wackerly said Friday. “So we may hold off to go to the [town and county joint meeting] on Oct. 1.”
Board members had talked about making the recommendation at the joint meeting scheduled for September.
The agreed-upon phase one option, which is estimated to cost $12.5 million, excludes underground parking, has less administration office space than initially proposed and a narrower road that would extend from the compound only to Snow King Avenue.
Among changes aimed at reducing costs, only half of the sought-after bus storage area was included in the plan for the first phase.
The barn would initially hold 24 buses. START now keeps 22 buses in Jackson, four in Etna and three in Driggs, Idaho.
The agency anticipates eventually having more rolling stock. More bus storage space and expanded office space could be added.
Wackerly said plans for phase one could change, but only if a large amount of funding is obtained soon.
“If we would get less than $5 million, it’s probably not going to change that recommendation,” he said.
The project’s master plan initially included expensive underground parking, but town and county officials nixed the idea at a meeting earlier this month.
Plans for the headquarters now anticipate using an extra 1.7-acre lot to make up for the parking. The town and county have set aside 4 acres for the project, located west of Karns Meadow.