Amid the din of arriving and departing buses at Asheville’s Transit Center on Coxe Avenue, Rep. Heath Shuler announced today that he had secured $238,000 in federal funding 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?” Shuler said.
In 2007, 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 each, funding will require a mix of city, state and federal dollars, with most of the weight on the federal side.
Mayor Terry Bellamy, introducing Shuler, praised the congressman’s efforts for bringing money to Western North Carolina, including a recent federal allocation for the Red Wolf habitat at the WNC Nature Center.
“We’re talking about transit today, but I could spend more time talking about other opportunities where we’ve partnered with the congressman,” Bellamy said. She added that she has 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 made a point of noting that this funding did not come from the stimulus bill proposed by President Barack Obama, which the congressman 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 make a complete transition to hybrid buses within three years.
— Brian Postelle, staff writer
photo by Jonathan Welch