Ozark Regional Transit (ORT) will receive a $3.6 million federal grant to replace the majority, if not all, of the remaining buses that have yet to be replaced after a Jan. 10, 2017, fire destroyed 20 buses and damaged two buildings at the transit provider’s headquarters in Springdale.
The blaze significantly depleted the transit provider’s fleet and ORT has operated with borrowed, leased or donated buses. In January, ORT received eight buses to begin replacing the destroyed fleet and started to reduce the number of leased buses it was operating.
On Thursday (April 5), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced ORT was among the 139 projects in 52 states and territories receiving a portion of the $264 million from the agency’s Buses and Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program. “FTA is proud to help bring new and rehabilitated buses, facilities and equipment to communities across the country,” FTA acting administrator K. Jane Williams said. “This marks a step forward in improving mobility for the millions of Americans who travel by bus to work, school, healthcare and other services.”
Joel Gardner, executive director for ORT, said the transit provider had applied for various levels of federal 5339 grant funding to include facilities replacement, a compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel station and for buses. The grant is for replacing buses destroyed in the fire.
In Little Rock, Rock Region Metro received a $3.57 million grant from the FTA to replace buses that have exceeded their useful life.
Gardner said he will accept bids to purchase the buses for ORT and hopes to have enough money to replace 14, which would restore the fleet to what it was before the fire. However, the number of buses to be replaced would depend on the bids. Also, he wants to give preference to the bids that complete the buses in a six to nine month timeframe, with the buses arriving sometime in early 2019. He expects the bids to come before the ORT board for a vote in June.
ORT was one of 453 eligible projects requesting nearly $2 billion in funding from the FTA. The selected projects will receive a combination of fiscal year 2017 and 2018 funds. Federal public transportation law, as updated by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, allows for the grants through fiscal year 2020.
“Every day, working families across America rely on buses, and these grants will ensure that these vital services continue to be both safe and efficient,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said.