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Youngstown Board of Control OKs $682,097 self-driving bus

10-seater part of improvement project

YOUNGSTOWN — The city’s board of control approved a $682,097 contract to buy a 10-seat self-driving bus that is part of a major downtown improvement project.

The board voted 3-0 Thursday to enter into a contract with Transdev Services of Lombard, Illinois, for the electric autonomous bus.

Even though the bus is self-driving, the contract with Transdev includes the company having a driver for the airport shuttle-sized vehicle for the first six months of the contract, said Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works.

State law requires a person to be behind the wheel of all buses, including those that drive themselves, Shasho said.

The bus will be delivered to the city in the fall, he said.

After six months, the city will reevaluate what it will do with the bus, Shasho said.

The city could sign a contract extension for additional money, give the bus to the Western Reserve Transit Authority or stop using it for public transportation and keep it in the city’s fleet of vehicles, Shasho said.

The city had to include the autonomous bus purchase as a provision for getting a $10.65 million federal grant, announced in December 2018, Shasho said.

The bus will go only from WRTA’s downtown station at West Federal Street and Fifth Avenue to the site of Eastern Gateway Community College, Shasho said. That’s a distance of 0.6 of a mile.

The bus is part of a $27.65 million project to improve several downtown streets that began in July 2020 and received $10.85 million in federal funding through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant. The work must be finished by the end of this year.

The SMART2 (Strategic and Sustainable, Medical and Manufacturing, Academic and Arts, Residential and Recreation and Technology and Training) Network project caused several of the city’s main downtown streets to be closed for many months and adversely impacted numerous businesses.

A $7 million improvement to Fifth Avenue between West Federal Street and Eastbound Service Road tied up traffic for more than a year before it finished in July 2020. In 2023, a project to West Federal Street closed large sections of the busy downtown street for most of the year.

Also Thursday, the board of control voted 3-0 to pay $82,063 to MS Consultants Inc. to design a couple of bus shelters on Fifth Avenue by Youngstown State University as part of the SMART2 project.

Other work as part of this project has been done to Front, Commerce and South Phelps streets and Rayen Avenue.

The work includes repaving, realigning curbs, reducing driving lanes, expanding sidewalks, new crosswalks and changes to parking spaces.

There have been construction delays on every street involved with the project. The other issue is the time it takes to install decorative crosswalks, forcing the shutdown of intersections throughout downtown.

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick.

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