UNION COUNTY — Two grants totaling more than $100,000 will be used by Union County to help fund a study of the feasibility of a local public transit system and to help a local water company replace water lines in the Monarch area.
Transit Feasibility Study
Supervisor Tommy Sinclair announced this week that the county has been informed that it will receive $39,375 in federal and state funding for a Transit Feasibility Study.
“We have received notice from the DOT (Department of Transportation) through the COG (Council of Governments) of being recommended to receive a Mass Transit Study Grant in excess of $39,000,” Sinclair said. “The grant starts July 1, 2014.”
Sinclair said that the community needs and wants a public transportation system.
“Ultimately, we want to have public transportation here,” Sinclair said. “You see the Newberry vehicles, the Spartanburg vehicles, and the Chester vehicles, all transit vehicles. This study will help determine and establish the need for DOT assistance as we provide public transportation for citizens with medical needs, transportation to work needs, or maybe even basic quality of life needs like getting to the grocery store.”
In February, Union County Council approved a resolution supporting a Transit Feasibility Study and agreeing to allocate $4,375 as a local match for the $39,375 in federal ($35,000) and state ($4,375) funds included in the grant the county had applied for.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation’s Section 5311 Rural Transportation Program provides funding to rural communities for transit system operations. Before they can be approved for funding for their proposed public transit systems, however, the SCDOT requires communities to conduct and submit a feasibility study of the project.
The resolution approved by county council states that the feasibility study will “determine the vitality of public transit in the county emphasizing jobs and jobs related training transportation and rural public transit opportunities.”
Economic development and its impact on Union County is emphasized by the resolution and an accompanying report on the scope of the study compiled for the county by the Catawba Regional Council of Governments. Both point out that economic development has helped spur growth in the county’s population at the beginning of this decade.
The report states that while the county experienced a decline in population in recent years, between 2010-2011, the population increased by 5.9 percent from 27,084 in 2010 to 28,679 in 2011. It attributes this to economic development events that occurred in the county and the region.
Those “economic development events” have resulted in the decline in the county’s unemployment rate which, for the first time in years, fell into the single digits in the fall of 2013. The report quotes Union County Development Board Executive Director Andrena Powell-Baker who attributed the reduction in the county’s unemployment rate to the creation of 730 new jobs in the county within the past five years and the creation of hundreds more within driving distance of Union.
The report states that “as Union County, the Union County Development Board and the surrounding jurisdictions continue to work on lowering unemployment rates, officials believe that public transit is needed for workforce related transit options for their citizens. These demands are expected to continue and the county feels that it is time to examine the viability of establishing an effective and efficient transit service and associated programs to better enable their citizens to access jobs and training opportunities.”
The report also points out that while there are “a number of human service agencies” that provide transportation to their clients in Union County, these services are “oriented toward select demographic groups for access to specific programs and services such as aging and medical and adequately meet human service needs within the county. The proposed system would be designed to meet commuter market needs for travel between Union County and employment centers and job training opportunities. The system could also be expanded to augment existing human service needs.”
The report also refers to the 2006 “City of Union Public Transit Service Survey” in which “respondents indicated that a lack of public transit was a major concern and also indicated a willingness to use public transit if available.”
The report states that the study process will take six to eight months to complete.
Water Line Upgrade
Sinclair also announced that the county had been awarded a $63,500 grant from the South Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority for a water line upgrade project.
“We applied for this grant on behalf of Brown’s Creek Water Company,” Sinclair said. “This grant will be used to replace water lines belonging to Brown’s Creek Water Company in the Monarch Ballpark area.”
The grant is part of nearly $12 million in grants the Rural Infrastructure Authority has awarded for 42 water and sewer projects in 32 counties across the state during the current fiscal year.
In a press release announcing the grants, the Rural Infrastructure Authority stated that the projects awarded funding will address community water and sewer improvements and economic infrastructure needs. It further states most of the funding will be used to upgrade or improve aging facilities to ensure public health and environmental compliance. The remaining grants will increase the infrastructure capacity to support existing businesses and new economic opportunities. These projects will impact 7,500 customers and 130 businesses.
Sinclair pointed out that many of the water lines currently in use by the water companies in Union County were installed in the 1960s and early 1970s, making them as much as a half-century old and in need of replacement. He said the county’s role in applying for the grant on behalf of Brown’s Creek Water Company is in keeping with its efforts to support similar projects undertaken by the City of Union in the Monarch and Buffalo communities.