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CENTRA looking to expand operations

by Franny White

STAFF WRITER

The unveiling of a new CENTRA Transit Station in Clarksburg Wednesday could be the first step in expansion of local transportation, according to local and state officials.

Central West Virginia Transit Authority held a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new bus and a $150,000 station located along the 400 block of West Pike Street.

The $78,000, 24-passenger bus is one of nine new vehicles Centra will be acquiring in months to come, according to Bob Boylan, CENTRA general manager.

Boylan said the authority is also considering expanding its current 11 routes to reach under-serviced rural areas, where population growth is at its highest.

The new bus station, which will officially open in a few weeks, consists of two glass-enclosed shelters with a neo-19th century architectural style. It will replace the old makeshift transit station in front of the Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library.

At the ceremony, Acting Secretary of Transportation Sam Beverage applauded the county for continued growth, citing I-79 lane expansion near Meadowbrook Mall, the growth of the Benedum Airport and the new bus station as examples.

Although he noted public transportation is not the most popular choice in a world of personal automobiles, Beverage did say CENTRA was important to Harrison County residents.

"The reality is not everyone rides mass transit," Beverage said. "They want to go when they want and where they want in their own cars. But the need is there."

That need includes those with disabilities and those without their own source of transportation.

As the area's elderly population grows, Boylan expects ridership for those 60 and older to increase.

One elderly rider is Mary Steffich of Nutter Fort.

"I'm soon to be 83 and my husband died a few years back, so I wouldn't have any transportation without the bus," Steffich said after the ceremony.

Although fixed-route ridership has remained fairly steady for the past 6 years, Boylan said service to the handicapped through disability demand service has grown 200 percent in the last 3 years.

As the area grows, Beverage said the new CENTRA station will better serve area residents.

"It's just one more small step toward a complete transportation system in the area," Beverage said.

Boylan said the station's old architectural style was intended to go hand-in-hand with Clarksburg's downtown revitalization. Tall, decorative lights that surround the station match those that have been placed along Main Street to give downtown a vintage feel.

With improved transportation, Beverage said Clarksburg and surrounding areas can blossom.

"Transportation and economic development -- you have to have one to have the other," Beverage said.

Staff writer Franny White can be reached at 626-1443.

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