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February 24, 2006     Cape Gazette
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February 24, 2006
 

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5- E m [] iiii il CAPE GAZETTE - Friday, Feb. 24 - Monday, Feb. 27, 2006 - 17 Sussex needs better bus network FIt EE ADMISSION By Brldin Reynolds Special to the Cape Gazette As legislators navigate their course creating the final state budget for fiscal 2007, public transporta- tion funding is a front-running issue, and local busi- ness leaders say Sussex needs a larger share of pub- lic transportation dollars. The Cape Region is one of many vying for expand- ed public transit routes in the form of extended bus service and possible enhanced rail service. The Delaware Joint Finance Committee (JFC) heard tes- timony from commuters, drivers and transportation officials Feb. 21. The Delaware Authority for Regional Transit (DART) provides commuter rail service, intercounty bus service, fixed-route bus service, paratransit serv- ice, commuter assistance service, and the RideShare Delaware Program. However, many in Sussex County say year-round and comprehensive bus routes are insufficient. . Wendy O. Baker, chairwoman of the Rehoboth ;Beach'e( Beach Chamber of Commerce Board o$ Directors Said, " have always been appreciative and encouraged by DART's presence in Sussex iounty,'but.are" surprised they did not ask for addi- llal..  : them aware given the devel- :t;y what we expect in ! the future." " .... ' ' Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, a member of JFC evaluating budget appropriations for the new fiscal year, said much of the Feb. 21 hearing focused on adding Sunday service in New Castle County and increased upstate service, including providing addi, tional commuter services for Maryland and Pennsylvania resi- dents who work in Wilmington. 8CItWARTZKOPI He said the JFC is currently reviewing new incentives to get commuters out of cars and onto public transit and hopes that will include new routes in Sussex. "In our area there is an ever-increasing need for public transportation, to reduce traffic and serve citi- zens and tourists in a very service-based economy. The need will only become greater as many move west in the county to find affordable housing," said Schwartzkopf. No fixed route is now offered in Sussex or Kent counties on weekends by DART First State, a divi- sion of the Delaware Department of Transportation, (DelDOT). Local employers would also like to see additional routes, including Tanger Outlets, formerly Rehoboth Outlets, which employs more than 800 people for its 133 stores. Tanger Outlets General Manager Amy Norgata said many of their stores rely on employees who need public transportation. "We are firm believers that public transportation is the future. It reduces pollution, simplifies traffic problems for everyone and allows more parking spaces for our customers," said Norgata., Norgata said the few bus stops and bus stop shel- ters along the outlets were donated to DelDOT by Rehoboth Outlets. "The land was deeded to the state because in the long run we are all benefactors of it," she said. JFC will not finalize the budget proposal until May, but DelDOT Secretary Carolann Wicks esti- mates a $6 million price tag for adding Sunday serv- ice in New Castle and Saturday routes ,in Kent and Sussex. According to the DelDOT human resources department, DART is already operating with an eight percent vacancy rate so expanding routes would also require driver recruitment efforts. Schwartzkopf said the 12-member JFC board understands the need for state support of DART. "It is a given that mass transit is a money-losing proposition. You have to get past that to!evaluate the services it provides to our citizens and lourists," he said. . "As far as I am concerned a state should be meas- ured by how it treats those that are less fortunate or disadvantaged. This is one of the budget items that is clearly important in that realm," he said, citing par- ticularly the ParaTransit program operatgd by DART. ParaTransit buses pick up disabled passengers at their door, charging only $2 for trips to essential legal and medical appointments and reservations can be made for errands such as grocery shOpping. In her proposed 2007 budget, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner allocated $72.3 million for DART, but JFC will have to evaluate if that will cover the proposed increased services. JFC member Rep. Joe DiPinto, R-Wilmington, has asked that a cost-benefit analysis be prCvided to the budget writing committee before any decision is final. Baker, also a principal at Ocean Atlantic Associates, said, "We encourage the use of mass transit as an effective means of conserving our natu- I ral resources and reducing the impact on our environ- ment and traffic systems." Baker said there's a growing need in e residential sector for public transportation, which translates to more routes running west of Route 1. She also praised DART's "continued *commitment to marketing the benefits of public trarsportation to our citizens and the understanding of providing a simple, user-friendly system. 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