June 28, 2016

Intermittent clouds

County transit hoping to get a boost

MEDINA — Medina County Public Transit soon may have more funds to keep buses running in rural communities.

Transit Director Michael Salamone told county commissioners Tuesday that a meeting with Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray in February should bring an additional $370,000 to the county’s public bus system by April.

Salamone said that money would be used to run another on-demand rural route.

Wray met with Salamone, County Administrator Chris Jakab and representatives from the county’s three cities Feb. 24 when most of Gov. John Kasich’s administrators were in town for the State of the State speech at the Medina Performing Arts Center.

“The meeting was very productive and they’re looking for ways to help,” Salamone said.

“This right here definitely helped all of us out,” he said of the money.

On-demand rural service was cut dramatically after a change in the U.S. Census led ODOT to reclassify Medina County as an urban transit system beginning this year. Urban systems get more federal funding for equipment and facilities but far less to subsidize daily operations.

Salamone said the shortfall meant cutting on-demand routes that serve the county’s rural and developmentally disabled residents: The number of operating routes was reduced from about 19 to as few as 11.

Salamone said the old system ran two loop routes in Medina and 17 rural on-demand routes. Now the system runs five fixed routes — two in Medina, two in Wadsworth and one Medina-to-Brunswick express — leaving as few as six routes to serve the rest of the county’s riders.

Salamone said Wray promised to see how ODOT — the agency that controls federal money designated for county and municipal transit systems — could fix the problem to allow Medina more flexibility in how it uses its busing dollars.

“They control the money, and so much goes to urban and so much to rural, so they want to find the flexibility to move numbers around to help our rural areas,” Salamone said.

One solution for the short term includes $370,000 the county is expected to receive from more than $2.2 million in unused transit dollars returned by Lorain County.

Salamone said ODOT divided that money among six Ohio counties that needed it, including Medina. He said it will be used to fund an additional rural route that will run 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

ODOT officials said they’re still looking for a long-term solution.

“I think where we are in the process is there are some other transit agencies that are in the same situation and we’re looking for solutions,” ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner said. “I can’t tell you what those solutions are today, but we’re going to continue to work with Medina County and others to identify what they might be. We will have much more to talk about in a month or two but nothing right now.”

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.