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WRTA gets widespread area support

Elected officials, development leaders speak out

Numerous communities and agencies have come out in support of Trumbull County joining WRTA.

The Mahoning Valley’s Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber and Western Reserve Port Authority want to see the Western Reserve Transit Authority expand a permanent public transit system in the county in the interest of economic development and job accessibility. Numerous elected and administrative officials in the county mostly praised the plan to join the transit system and WRTA’s track record in Mahoning County operations.

ECONOMIC

DEVELOPMENT

“Consistent and reliable public transportation is a very important aspect of economic development and oftentimes part of the decision making process for a company when selecting a location,” said Sarah Boyarko, chief operating officer and senior vice president of economic development for the chamber. “Companies will often request to be located in or around a job hub to ensure they will have direct access to a workforce. It’s becoming more common for companies we attract to the market to request information about current public transportation routes relative to the properties that meet their requirements.”

WRTA has expanded routes to help companies meet their needs in the past, helping encourage more development, Boyarko said. And, existing companies and employees have the same need, Boyarko said.

“Because of this, access to transportation is always part of the conversation during our business retention and expansion meetings with company decision makers. In some cases they will be unable to expand or keep their doors open if their workers cannot get to work,” Boyarko said. “A company creates jobs, the jobs are filled by an available workforce. If workers cannot get to work it is very challenging for the company to succeed. Transportation is important.”

Arno Hill, mayor of Lordstown, said bus transportation will be needed in the village as workers are hired at new job centers like TJX HomeGoods.

WRTA has been a “commodity” in Mahoning County and would be in Trumbull County too, John Moliterno, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority, said.

“I am a big proponent of working together on a regional basis,” Moliterno said. “It is about time this takes place. We need to be able to transport people to their place of work in Trumbull County, too.”

Darlene St. George, Howland’s township administrator, said WRTA would strengthen the economic future of Trumbull County as an “excellent community asset” that would help eliminate food deserts and help people access health care. WRTA also offers “professional leadership, financial transparency and a modern bus fleet utilizing the latest technology,” St. George said.

James Kinnick, executive director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, said his organization also backs the permanent expansion.

“Eastgate supports the effort to bring regional transit services to Trumbull County. This regional approach will benefit and better connect all the residents of the Mahoning Valley,” Kinnick said.

Arnie Clebone, Liberty trustee, said a community like Liberty has a number of businesses that need workers.

“I think it could be a big plus. I am sure there are manufacturers in more rural places that are not being served. I would think businesses would be for it, and retailers who want to attract customers that don’t have access to transportation. It could be a factor between a new business coming to the township or not,” Clebone said.

A lack of transportation has dissuaded companies from moving to Vienna in the past, said Phil Pegg, Vienna trustee.

“It can be hard to get workers out to Vienna without a public transit system. A lot rely on public transportation and want to see a better and more outstanding transit system and I believe that is through WRTA,” Pegg said.

It could be a big asset in attracting an airline to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, Pegg and Moliterno said.

HEALTH CARE ACCESSIBILITY

Lack of access to transportation is often a barrier to accessing healthcare. There are numerous reasons why someone can’t drive themselves to appointments, anything from an ailment that makes it too dangerous to drive, a lack of resources for a vehicle and insurance, or a legal issue that prevents someone from driving.

James LaPolla, a Howland trustee and a podiatrist, said he supports public transportation in both of his roles.

“As a physician, I support public transportation. Many of my patients cannot get to the hospital or doctors appointments because they are unable to drive or cannot find someone to drive them to their appropriate appointment. I also think this is a positive mode of transportation to help those that cannot afford transportation,” LaPolla said. “As an elected official, I support any public service that can benefit my constituents in multiple ways. May that be for medical appointments, may that be to get food, may that be to get clothes, I don’t see any negative expanding WRTA Into Trumbull County, and especially in Howland Township.”

Access to public transportation can aid in recovery from a substance use disorder, April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said.

“Many of the people that use our system of care site lack of transportation as their number one need. People need a ride to treatment and counseling, 12-step meetings and jobs. A simple thing like a ride can make the difference between someone working their program and getting the help they need or relapsing,” Caraway said.

COMMUNITY ACCESS

Expanded service in Trumbull County is a “long time coming” and a “natural” decision that would be a “big benefit for us,” Girard Mayor James Melfi said.

Niles Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz said the expansion is a “good opportunity for not only Niles, but Trumbull County as a whole.”

David Rouan, Weathersfield’s township administrator, said the township is “fortunate” to have a route pass through McKinley Heights, and residents use it.

“We would love to see this service expanded to other parts of our township and to the county,” Rouan said. It is possible WRTA will ask Trumbull County voters in May to fund the expansion with a 0.25-percent sales tax increase that would add 25 cents to a $100 purchase.

“I think it is a wonderful idea. At 25 cents on a $100 purchase, that is the best bargain anyone has going on right now. We ought to go forward,” Warren Councilman Greg Greathouse, D-3rd Ward, said.

Clebone said he too wonders why the WRTA expansion wasn’t on the table a “long time ago.”

There are people in Mahoning County who need to travel through Trumbull County for work, and people who live in Trumbull County that need to travel to Mahoning County for work, Clebone said.

“This would tie our communities together and create options for more coordination and regionalization,” Clebone said.

And, public transit should help reduce traffic and support environmental goals, Clebone said.

David Lynch, Newton Falls village manager, said he expects the expanded service to serve a broader geographical area.

The service could help students reach the Kent State University at Trumbull and Youngstown State University campuses, said Doug Emerine, Champion trustee.

The service also could help seniors make appointments and join their peers to socialize at senior centers, he said.

TAXATION

Hubbard Township Trustee Richard Hernandez said he is against any new taxation, and although a sales tax raise isn’t a certainty, it is the most likely way the service would be funded.

“I understand WRTA provides a very good service to those in need of travel, however during these current times and situations we are experiencing and without really knowing what the future holds with the COVID-19 pandemic, it would only further burden Trumbull County businesses with additional taxation. It’s tough enough for current retail business owners to operate given the online shopping buying boom. Businesses are going out of business locally. It’s a very tough retail environment out there,” Hernandez said.

No other officials who responded to the newspaper’s request for comment had anything negative to say about the proposal.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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