Johnson County begins next phase of transit system repairs

County commissioners disagreed about the value of the public transit system for the county at their Thursday, January 26 meeting.

They still authorized the next phase for concrete and repairs for the Murray L. Nolte Transit Center off of Old 56 Highway in Olathe. This phase will cost $291,820.

Brian Pietig, director of public works, said it will be the halfway point project for a full scope of repairs planned over 10 parts so service can still continue.

Charlotte O’Hara, District 3 commissioner, said she questioned the value of spending money for any amount on a transit system that is not self-sufficient.

“It is another quarter of a million dollars that we are throwing down a rat hole,” she said.

O’Hara said it wasn’t a prudent use of tax dollars by continuing to subsidize a system that is absolutely broken.

“Our fixed route bus service is an abysmal failure, we all know it,” she said. “I think that we absolutely need to rethink our transit. I had hoped that our staff was going to bring a new vision to transit, unfortunately, it’s more of the same.”

Michael Ashcraft, District 5 commissioner, said he wanted to have further discussion about the transit system’s future. He said he wanted to focus on the potential of saving money in the long-run by addressing the repair needs the transit center is currently facing.

Other commissioners, including Janee Hanzlick, District 4 commissioner, said they saw the transit system as a public good for the county versus something that should be making money for them.

“There are thousands and thousands of people in Johnson County who depend on our transit system to get to work, to get to health care appointments, to get to grocery stores,” she said. “Maintaining our system, we may not think a lot about the pavement as being important but it really is, in order for us to continue to provide those services to our especially vulnerable people.”

During the unani-mous vote for the project repairs, O’Hara said she was voting for county infrastructure repair and upkeep, but not for the transit system.

In 2022, the county regained control of its share of the RideKC public transportation program that runs on both sides of the state line in the KC Metro. The county’s transportation system portion is part of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. The interlocal agreement for the Johnal, son County side was dissolved last Spring.

The Johnson County Transit division in the public works sector formed with five new full time positions to oversee and manage the division. A five year pilot to expand micro and paratransit options with expanded hours and route options, including Gardner, was kickstarted. The cost of $15.2 million for it is backed by federal dollars.