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Philomath Connection

A passenger disembarks from the Philomath Connection bus in front of the library.

Local residents who utilize public transportation through the Philomath Connection will be riding on a new bus sometime within the foreseeable future.

Benton County will be receiving $8.2 million from the Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund, or STIF, which generates revenue through a new payroll tax of 1/10 of 1 percent.

City Manager Chris Workman told the Philomath City Council in December that there would be no out-of-pocket expense to pay for the new bus with 80 percent of the amount covered through federal funding that Corvallis receives for its transit district and the remaining 20 percent match amount through STIF's so-called "discretionary" revenue.

According to the Benton County STIF Advisory Committee, Philomath's match was to be $89,400, which would put the cost of the new bus at $447,000.

Out of the $8.2 million, the county will receive $4 million in "formula" funding for a set of projects recommended by a county advisory committee and $4.2 million in “discretionary” funding for another set of projects chosen by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

And there could be up to $1.2 million in additional formula funding available if the new payroll tax generates more revenue than expected.

Corvallis and Philomath applied jointly for the STIF discretionary revenue.

Workman told city councilors back in December that applying for the funding with Corvallis Transit was "a pretty large extra feather in our hats because they’re going to come in with a larger package and one of the small little line items will be our little bus that gets added in with their large list of items that they’ll be applying for funding for.”

Workman said estimated an 18-month timeframe for the bus to be ordered, constructed and delivered.

The Benton County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to hold a formal vote at its April 16 meeting on the $4 million list of “formula” projects recommended by the advisory committee.

But the commissioners expressed solid support for the project list during a presentation by several committee members at their April 2 work session.

“This looks like a good list,” Commissioner Xan Augerot told the group. “I’m impressed that you were able to get that much into the money (that was allocated).”

Among the 19 "formula" projects is $550,000 to expand the bus garage that supports the Corvallis Transit System and Philomath Connection.

Most notable on the list is a $1.9 million enhancement of the Corvallis Transit System that will add Sunday service on all regular routes, extended weekday and Saturday service on most routes and expanded routes to serve downtown and provide a crosstown service.

The primary bus currently used for Philomath Connection routes has been experienced serious and ongoing maintenance issues and has seen limited service runs.

The costs involved with keeping the bus in service have added up. The city does have a backup Philomath Connection bus but as CPT Services Supervisor Lisa Scherf wrote in a Nov. 27 letter to Workman, “due to the age of that vehicle, that is not a long-term solution.” As a result, Scherf recommended the purchase of the new bus, a 35-foot Gillig model that's the same type used in the Corvallis fleet.

Besides the new Philomath Connection bus, other discretionary projects include new buses for the Corvallis Transit System, and the Linn-Benton Loop, and service and an expansion of the Coast to Valley bus service.

With two major apartment complexes going up in Philomath, city officials anticipate an increase in bus ridership numbers.

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Bennett Hall of the Corvallis Gazette-Times contributed to this article.

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