Central Valley

Turlock gets its bus money - $1.5M

TURLOCK -- Turlock scored $1.56 million Friday in federal stimulus money for a new bus depot.

Mayor John Lazar, who lobbied for the award during a January visit to Washington, D.C., said Turlock was the San Joaquin Valley's only recipient of money in the latest round of stimulus transit grants. Federal officials Friday announced 58 grants amounting to $473 million throughout the United States.

The Turlock project, however, faces an appeal Tuesday before the City Council because a bus depot makes more sense downtown, resident Patrick Noda said.

The proposed site, on two city-owned parcels at West Hawkeye Avenue and North Golden State Boulevard, is across the street from the current depot, which moved from downtown in August 2007.

"The transit hub is in the wrong place," Noda wrote in his appeal of the city Planning Commission's June 4 approval. He presented the commission with petitions showing 962 signatures of people who agree, and said he gathered nearly 2,000 signatures for the council.

"The hub should be central for the greatest number of people who ride the buses," Noda wrote in an April letter to the editor in The Bee.

City Hall moved the depot from downtown to make it "easier and safer" for riders to board, assistant planner Katie Melson said in a report, because passengers were running across busy Golden State to catch transfers. The city's 40-foot buses "were having a hard time maneuvering" downtown, breaking windows on passing vehicles, Melson said.

City has fallback plan

Knowing that the Obama administration was readying grants for capital transit projects, city officials beat an application deadline and can't resubmit with a new location.

But City Hall prepared a backup plan in case the council sides with Noda. Turlock could use the money awarded Friday to build a 2,680-square-foot bus dispatch office at 501 S. Walnut Road.

"Basically we're telling them, 'We're going to spend it on this or this,' " said Debbie Whitmore, the city's deputy director of development services.

The Bus Line Service of Turlock carries about 160,000 riders a year, according to a recent transit study.

With fewer dollars to retain professional lobbyists, Lazar paid for his January trip to the U.S. Conference of Mayors and spoke with congressional representatives, he said. The contact apparently "paid off," he said Friday.

"These projects put people back to work quickly, improve transportation options for millions and help rebuild the nation's economy," said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff.

The city of Davis received $3.9 million Friday to buy nine buses. Most other recipients were in the Bay Area or Southern California. Since Feb. 17, federal transportation officials have handed out 221 transit stimulus grants worth $2.22 billion.

Tuesday's Turlock City Council meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m. in the Yosemite Room at 156 S. Broadway.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.