$32.6M in Funds to Aid WRTA in Bus, Infrastructure Upgrades

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Funds from the federal infrastructure bill Congress passed last year will help the Western Reserve Transit Authority purchase new buses and improve infrastructure, WRTA’s executive director said Tuesday.

The $32.6 million in transit funds that WRTA will receive over five years under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was highlighted during a midday visit to the local transit authority’s garage and administrative offices by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. 

“It’s a service that really, really matters for a whole lot of people in this community, and we have a responsibility to make sure it’s still here,” Brown said. “It’s good for job growth, it’s good for the workers here and it’s good for the people who they serve.”

The infrastructure bill will increase the funding WRTA receives by 50% over the next five years, helping the transit authority to begin replacing its buses, its executive director, Dean Harris, said. 

WRTA Executive Director Dean Harris

“We have at least $10 million of buses to replace in that five-year time period,” he said. 

Additionally, the transit authority is interested in infrastructure upgrades, including potentially expanding the Mahoning Avenue building garage and updating its Federal Station terminal, using funds from the allocation as well as other grants, Harris said. A grant request already has been submitted to fund an update of the bus facility to include charging stations for the future electric buses WRTA plans to purchase down the road. 

“There’s just so many projects we’d like to do,” he said.

Brown emphasized the bipartisan support that the legislation received, including from his colleague U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, as well as its Buy America provisions.

“No more building bridges made of Chinese steel that you’re going to use. Whether it’s for pipes or for wiring, or steel or concrete, it’s going to be made in America by U.S. workers,” Brown said. “Primary, the infrastructure bill is a jobs bill. It’s going to create a huge number of jobs all over this state and all over the country.”    

Tenessa Wills, Local 272 president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents WRTA bus drivers, thanked Brown for helping to pass the legislation. 

“We see the strong need for public transportation in our valley. The infrastructure investment and jobs act will help us to continue to provide service for our passengers so that they can go to their jobs and medical appointments,” she said. 

“A lot of people don’t have access to cars, and they need transportation to work, to school, to medical [appointments],” Harris said. “Food deserts are a big concern for a lot of people because there’s so few local grocery stores anymore.” 

The transit grants also will provide funds for retraining maintenance workers and others whose jobs will be affected as new transportation technology is introduced, Brown said. 

This year, WRTA will introduce the first of two autonomous shuttles the system will begin operating. “The current goal is to have it up and running by September,” he said. 

That shuttle, which will connect downtown to St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital via Fifth Avenue, will be joined by a second shuttle running along Federal Street. That shuttle is being funded as part of the $27.65 million Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training – or Smart2 – Network project. It is expected to begin operation in late 2023 or early 2024, he said. 

Pictured at top: U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, touts the bipartisan effort to bring $32.6M in funds to WRTA over the next five years.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.