The Fresno City Council is set to debate a proposal tonight to bring a hi-tech express bus line to city. But as FM89’s Joe Moore reports, the $50 million federal grant that would fund the project is generating some controversy.
The proposal calls for new high capacity express bus service, known as Bus Rapid Transit, to be built along Blackstone and Kings Canyon Avenues in Fresno. The new bus line would replace existing FAX service on those routes and would decrease travel time for riders by as much as an hour and a half in some cases.
The project would be paid for through a $50 million federal grant, and according to Mayor Ashley Swearengin, it’s critical to the city’s new general plan and state regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sophia DeWitt, with Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries says the project is an important part of the effort to halt suburban sprawl and end dependence on the automobile.
DEWITT: “This is key to the future of our city and it’s also something that community residents over a long period of time over the last three years have said they support and have said that they want not only because of the improvements of public transportation but because of the way BRT fits in with a larger planning puzzle.”
But in recent weeks, opposition to the project has grown. Local political consultant Tal Cloud has run radio ads against the BRT proposal, and claims it will hurt businesses. He compares the mayor’s plan to past projects like the downtown baseball stadium, the Met Museum and Granite Park.
CLOUD: “I disagree that just because you’ve got a free grant, that you should go tear up the street and cause harm to our businesses along Blackstone. So I think her social engineering mentality is not going to be productive for this community.”
Cloud says that BRT and the city’s new general plan, which aims to slow the growth of suburban sprawl, will make Fresno less competitive with other local cities.
CLOUD: “This mayor does not support the Fresno building community and it’s embarrassing because these homebuilders are now building elsewhere and they’ve given up on Fresno because of this mayor’s policies.”
DeWitt and other community activists disagree, and say the city shouldn’t turn down the federal investment in better transit for the community.
SOPHIA DEWITT: “If we reject the money it is extremely unlikely that we could go back at a later point and say ‘Oh, please help us out. Give us some assistance to improve our infrastructure. We would not be competitive in that environment. ”
The council is expected to vote tonight on whether the project will move forward after a public comment period.