MYRTLE BEACH — Coast RTAs looking to build its new home closer to the beach.
Officials with both the mass transit system and Myrtle Beach government are in the very early stages of working out their plans to move Coast RTA out of Conway and to a new facility to be located east of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Coast officials say the large amount of services offered closer to the beach, as well as the deterioration of its current facility, make the construction of a new headquarters a priority for the area public transportation system that serves hundreds of thousands of riders a year and has a fleet of 42 buses.
Savings on fuel and vehicle maintenance also has been touted as the advantage of having a new facility -- one of two needs cited in a study two years ago.
The members of the Coast RTA Intermodal Transportation Center Feasibility Study Core Committee met Thursday morning to talk about the process of applying for a grant with the Federal Transit Administration.
Coast General Manager Myers Rollins said the maximum amount of FTA funding they could receive is 80 percent.
He added that funding will be available Oct. 1 to hire a consulting firm that will work on the project development and planning feasibility study that would go to FTA as part of Coasts grant application.
Parts of that study include developing a project budget, designing real estate acquisition and identifying transportation needs.
We do understand that in order to do this right, instead of fast, its going to take time, Rollins said of the expected completion of a new facility. This isnt something thats going to happen in one or two years.
Time to move
Coast RTA has worked over the past few years on expanding its operation.
A 2010 study took a comprehensive look at Coast RTA and how to move it forward. Two critical findings were the organization needed to secure a stronger financial commitment from the local community, and to physically move the headquarters closer to where the majority of its services are offered.
That first finding was met when the Horry County Council put a referendum on the ballot in November 2010 asking the public if it would support a millage increase of no more than three mills that would be dedicated to public transportation. More than 63 percent of voters supported the referendum, and Coast RTA began receiving funding in the amount of $1.05 million each fiscal year.
Were very pleased, because for us that was a sea change moment, Rollins said of the referendum.
Now, theyve moved on to the second requirement of the study.
Rollins told the committee that 78 percent of its services are east of the waterway. With headquarters in Conway, the drivers start their days at 4:30 a.m., with some heading off to Georgetown via S.C. 707 and the rest heading south on U.S. 501. He added that this causes an increase in fuel and maintenance costs.
By relocating the headquarters, Coast RTA would save a minimum of $230,000 annually on gas and upkeep costs, Rollins said.
Then theres the facility itself, which formerly housed a car dealership. Rollins said the building has low bay heights and they cant raise the buses when making repairs. Instead, mechanics use crawlers to roll under the buses and handle tune-ups on their backs.
The question theyre now asking, Rollins said, is do they want the new headquarters to have 10 bays or 30. Part of the process, he added, is trying to plan for 30 years down the road, and the growth that would be seen over that time.
But thats not all they need to consider.
Al Babinicz, president and CEO of Clemson Area Transit, knows a thing or two about moving into a new home; the Clemson-based public transportation system relocated to its new $3 million facility less than a year ago.
He recognizes that the need for a new Coast RTA facility is real, the same as it is for all transit systems in South Carolina.
You need something thats more functional, more sustainable and something thats more community-focused, Babinicz said.
In an effort to be more community focused, the new CAT building includes an all-glass, two-story community room that members of the public can use for activities and meetings, Babinicz said.
Additionally, CAT has a contract with Clemsons art center to display local artists work.
That brings the community closer to the transit system, Babinicz said.
Rollins said Coast will reach out to the Myrtle Beach community throughout the process, especially bicyclists, in the hopes of locating the new headquarters in an area with good walking and biking paths.
Additionally, Coast will talk to law enforcement officials about the possibility of placing a satellite office in the building.
There a number of unique things we want to include in this solicitation, Rollins said.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.