Monday, March 4, 2024

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Burlington says Mebane is ready to join Link Transit

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After years of resisting invites to join the Link Transit bus system, the city of Mebane may be about to hop aboard this Burlington-based service – at least according a recent report from city officials in Burlington.

John Andoh, Burlington’s transit manager, recently informed his municipality’s leaders that officials in Mebane have actually approached him and his colleagues about their potential inclusion in the eight-year-old bus system.

“Mebane has reached out to us in relation to wanting to expand Link Transit into their jurisdiction,” Andoh recalled when Burlington’s city council held its latest monthly work session on Monday. “Their reason, particularly, is to connect their residents to services in Burlington as well as Alamance Community College.” Andoh’s account of Mebane’s burgeoning interest in Link Transit is somewhat at odds with the utter silence on this subject from Mebane’s municipal leaders. In fact, the topic hasn’t even come up at any of the meetings that Mebane’s city council has held in the past six to eight months. [See separate story:  https://alamancenews.com/mebane-city-mgr-mebane-not-quite-as-committed-as-portrayed-to-burlingtons-city-council/ ]

Andoh ultimately attributed Mebane’s apparent interest in the Burlington-based service to a comprehensive transportation plan that was recently approved by this fast-growing city on the Orange-Alamance county divide. According to Burlington’s transit manager, Mebane’s plan proposes a two pronged strategy to put mass transit within the grasp of its residents. One of these prongs would reportedly comprise a “circulator route” that Orange County would operate on Mebane’s behalf. The other would consist of a “connector route” running from Mebane to Burlington.

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John Andoh, Burlington’s transit manager during Burlington city council’s Monday work session.

Andoh informed Burlington’s leaders that Mebane has already taken a tentative step toward the second part of this service by applying for funds to bankroll a “pilot” connector service with Burlington. He noted that, under this plan, Link Transit would extend its easternmost “orange” route from its current terminus near ACC’s main campus in Graham to a park-in-ride lot in Mebane that serves as a port of call for a regional commuter bus system. This stop would also be within easy reach of the Tanger Outlet Center as well as a Cone Health satellite location in Mebane.

Andoh told Burlington’s city council that Mebane would pick up the entire tab for this proposed pilot service, which could hit the road as soon as July 1, 2024 if the sought-after funds are approved. The city’s transit manager said that Mebane would ultimately pay $71.78 an hour for the bus system’s regular service as well as another $93.86 an hour for the specialized “paratransit” shuttles it provides the disabled.  Andoh added that the proposed expansion would actually lower Burlington’s own operational costs by roughly $15,000 a year due to the reduced idle time of the bus that crisscrosses the orange route. He told the city council to expect an interlocal agreement regarding this venture some time in the spring of this year.

Should the plans for this proposed connector be cinched, it would make Mebane the fifth jurisdiction to join Link Transit since the Burlington-based system was first proposed nearly a decade ago.

In addition to Burlington, the bus service has also served Gibsonville since it made its debut in 2016. Meanwhile, annual contributions from Alamance County and Alamance Community College have enabled the system to make forays into Graham’s municipal limits to serve the county’s headquarters as well as ACC’s main campus.

The most recent addition to Link’s service area has been the town of Elon, which secured a handful of bus stops last year after it ponied up the local match needed to join this federally-subsidized bus system. Mebane’s prospective connector would effectively add yet another notch to Link Transit’s fan belt – leaving the city of Graham as the bus system’s only significant holdout within Alamance County.

Andoh was unable to offer Burlington’s leaders any immediate hope of a formal commitment from Graham. He nevertheless conceded that Graham’s management has shown some interest in a study that could pave the way for “additional transit in their jurisdiction.”

During its work session on Monday, Burlington’s city council also received an update on an ongoing assessment of Link Transit’s services by the Kimley Horn consulting firm.

According to Kimley Horn’s Mary Kate Morookian, her firm is currently gathering public feedback as a prelude to its analysis of the Burlington-based bus system. Morookian added that she and colleagues will ultimately use this information to identify gaps in service as well as potential areas for the bus system’s expansion. Also part of Kimley Horn’s remit is to recommend possible sites for a permanent transit hub to replace Link’s temporary headquarters near the Burlington Alamance Regional Airport. Morookian said that there’s any number of potential locations for this facility, although she added that her firm will zero in on the ones that are centrally located within Burlington’s municipal limits.

“We want to make sure that we maintain and optimize service efficiency,” she went on to explain. “So, we want to make sure we’re not adding too much time to routes.”

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