By Greg Hince
Aug. 16, 2012. AppalCART bus service is preparing for a number of changes coinciding with the start of the new school year. The transportation authority is adding two more buses and altering routes. They also expect to move into a new $5.5 million transit facility within a few weeks of the start of the new semester.
No opening date has been set and the construction of the facility, located off the N.C. 105 Bypass, has been delayed for years. There is still work to be done before the facility can receive a certificate of occupancy from the county.
“We have to do a few things, like plug in the bus wash, set up fire alarms, paint the shop floor, install radios, finish the awnings, fix a groundwater canopy and repave the upper and lower lots before we can pass final code,” Transportation Director Chris Turner said.
The project was funded through the 2009 federal economic stimulus package and was once scheduled for completion in fall 2010, but contractor disputes have caused a number of delays.
“Basically, the subcontractor wasn’t paying his suppliers, so the general contractor had to come back and pay them out of his own pocket,” Turner said.
The project was halted in 2011 when general contractor McCarroll Construction of Arden experienced financial problems, which they said were due to subcontractors going out of business. Eventually, after an audit and mediation session, the NCDOT agreed to provide a $300,000 grant so that McCarroll Construction could complete the site.
Turner said that the facility would have to be LEED certified, and at their last meeting the Transportation Board voted to begin adding “footers” to the site starting next week. AppalCART, which has served students and community members with free public transportation for over 30 years, currently has their headquarters at 274 Winkler’s Creek Road, but Turner said they have needed added space for years.
“I hope students don’t notice any change when we move, and I don’t think they will,” Turner said. “The only change our employees will see is better parking, and now we’ll actually have space in our washes to fit the busses, so they will look a lot cleaner in the winter,” he said. The company is not adding any new employees with the move.
This year AppalCART’s bus fleet will expand to 20 buses with the inclusion of two recently purchased used buses from Gastonia. They are conventional Gilleg models, which are 35 feet long and hold 32 passengers plus standees. After state and federal funding, AppalCART’s local share of costs for the two used buses was $24,000. The buses are expected to last about four or five years. They are currently at Precision Printing in Boone getting new decals. In addition, AppalCART also recently purchased two new hybrid Gilleg buses. They also deploy 15 El Dorado model buses.
AppalCART buses have traditionally gone through their fair share of wear and tear, often leading to fixes that cost thousands of dollars. Currently one bus is in Charlotte getting an engine rebuild, and many others have serious suspension issues.
“It’s just the nature of driving up here, with the starts and stops and hills and speed bumps, it tears the buses up,” Turner said.
With the expansion of its fleet, AppalCART will also be changing some routes beginning Aug. 20. They added a new Silver Route, designed to connect Appalachian State to Caldwell Community College so that dually enrolled students have easier access to both campuses. The POP 105 bus will no longer cover the CCC&TI area. Turner said speed limits, road restrictions and heavy busloads made it hard to make good time. He estimated the new route would save roughly three minutes per trip, allowing two more runs per hour.
The second newly acquired bus will act as a second bus on the purple route during the busiest times of day, allowing buses to arrive at stops approximately every 15 minutes, instead of every 30 minutes.
Buses will also be making regular stops at the new Capstone and Clawson/Greene apartment complexes, to be built in the next year. The complexes signed a general monthly contract, with a set fee based on the number of beds, for services. The contracts were modeled on ones set by Village of Meadowview and other complexes that utilize the service. The money from those contracts provides funds for AppalCART.
The company is also funded jointly by Appalachian State University, Watauga County, the Town of Boone and state and federal transportation departments. Their current location on Winkler’s Creek Road, which they will inhabit for the at least the next few weeks, will eventually revert back to the county, which purchased the property in 1980 when AppalCART was a county department.
With the new route changes, Turner recommends riders check out the new schedules, as arrival times may have changed at various stops. New maps have been printed and are up at stops, and an updated schedule is posted on AppalCART’s website, www.appalcart.com. In addition the company is currently working on a smartphone APP that will provide users with location of buses, GPS maps and other information. Most routes will stay relatively the same, and Turner emphasized the point that only AppalCART workers would recognize the changes.
“We’ve undergone a major expansion over the past few years, but things are mostly the same,” Turner said.
In October, after moving into the new facility, the company plans to add two new 40-foot Gilleg buses and retire one older one. The AppalCART fleet is already as big as it’s ever been, and Turner only sees the service expanding.
“We’re excited here for the new year, and can’t wait to get into the new facility,” he said. “But I don’t want to speculate on anything, because I’m always wrong.”
For more information about AppalCART, call (828) 262-2278 or visit www.appalcart.com.