Congress took the first step Thursday in providing an easier first step for all Capital Transit riders.
A bill approved by the U.S. House Transportation earmarks $2.5 million for Juneau transit, according to Rep. Don Young's office in Washington, D.C. The money would be used to replace all nine Juneau city buses, some almost two decades old and all with less-easily accessed high floors, Capital Transit Manager John Kern told the Empire.
Floors of newer buses are close to the curb, he said.
The bill also includes $3 million for planning and design of a bridge joining Ketchikan to the Island of Gravina and $2 million for improvements to Indian River Road in Sitka.
Altogether for Alaska, the bill would provide $2.16 billion for highway projects and $133 million for transit during the next six years. That would be $220.8 million more for highways and $65.3 million more for transit than Alaska had in the last six-year transportation bill, Young's office reported.
Nationally, the bill would provide about $225 billion for highway projects and $50 billion for transit. It is tentatively scheduled to be voted on by the full House of Representatives next week.
"I really would like to see this go through," Juneau Public Works Director Joe Buck said Thursday.
Two buses in Capital Transit fleet date back to 1985, and two others have been in use since 1987, he said. The newest buses scheduled for replacement are five that were purchased in 1992.
"We probably put 1 million miles on our buses during their lifetimes," Buck said. He praised the maintenance crews working to keep them on the streets.
Kern said the Capital Transit fleet operates with 16 buses, 13 of which are on the road at any given time. He said he understands that if the legislation passes, Juneau could replace its seven oldest buses by 2007.
Then the oldest buses would date to 2000, he added.
Buck said replacing the high-floor buses is an important issue to make them easier for people with disabilities to use, although all buses are wheelchair accessible.
Riders have shown they prefer the low-floor buses, Kern noted. On the Douglas routes, but low floor buses have consistently higher ridership, showing that people wait for them, he explained.
Seven new buses at the current price of $243,000 would cost about $2.2 million, Buck said. Any remaining funds from the $2.5 million authorization would be used for transit centers, he added.
Young said he will "continue to seek increased funding levels for highway and transit projects in Alaska and the other 49 states."
He called the transportation bill, "the first step in securing funding for many of the important projects needed throughout our state."
Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.