Amid the din of arriving and departing buses at downtown Asheville’s Coxe Avenue Transit Center, Rep. Heath Shuler announced April 9 that he’s secured $238,000 in federal funding to help pay for the city’s planned transition to hybrid buses.
The money comes as part of the omnibus appropriations bill of 2009, and brings the total amount corralled by Shuler for the effort to $500,000.
“What better way to bring back tax dollars to Western North Carolina than something we can implement that obviously helps save the environment and also helps people get to and from work?” noted Shuler.
In 2007, the Asheville City Council announced its intention to replace the city’s fleet of 15 buses with hybrid models. But at a cost of $550,000 apiece, the move will require a mash up of city, state and federal dollars, with most of the weight on the federal side.
Introducing Shuler, Mayor Terry Bellamy praised the congressman’s efforts to bring money to the region, including a recent federal allocation for the WNC Nature Center’s red-wolf habitat.
“We’re talking about transit today, but I could spend more time talking about other opportunities where we’ve partnered with the congressman,” said Bellamy. The mayor voiced big hopes for the environmental implications of a hybrid bus fleet. “When I think about what we are trying to do to reduce our carbon footprint, this really helps us get there in a quicker method.”
Shuler emphasized that this funding did not come from the stimulus bill proposed by President Obama, which he voted against, and he defended his efforts to channel money back to WNC.
“This went through the proper process; it went thorough all the committees and subcommittees. It wasn’t something we just saw 11 hours before we voted on it,” Shuler told Xpress. “We sat down with the mayor and the Council and said, ‘What are some of your needs? Where can we help? And where can we go after some of these dollars?’”
The city is hoping to complete the transition to hybrid buses within three years.