With the opening of La Grande’s new multi-modal transit hub just a few months months away, Community Connection’s public transit program is expanding.
PENDLETON, ELGIN ROUTES ADDED: Union County Community Connection’s public transit program has begun Monday through Friday bus service to Pendleton. It also launched Saturday bus service to Elgin, with plans to make runs five days a week later this year. - Observer file photo
And expanding some more.
Frank Thomas, transportation manager for Union County Community Connection, announced last week his agency, which already operates fixed-route bus service in La Grande and a Dial-a-Ride service for seniors and the disabled, has begun Monday through Friday bus service to Pendleton.
That’s not all. Community Connection has also launched Saturday bus service to Elgin, with plans to make runs five days a week later this year.
“These are the kinds of things we were just dreaming about doing three years ago,” Thomas said.
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation recently contracted with Community Connection, a non-profit social service agency, for bus service between
La Grande and the reservation outside Pendleton.
The new transit program is funded by a federal grant and in the initial stages there will be no charge for riding the bus, Thomas said.
Three round trips a day are scheduled — with buses departing the Union County Senior Center in La Grande — at 6:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 3:50 p.m.
Arrivals in the Pendleton area are slated for 7:47 a.m., 12:17 p.m. and 5:05 p.m. Each trip, the bus will make stops at the Cayuse Technologies Business Park and Wildhorse Resort before heading back to La Grande.
The tribal transportation program will provide connections for the Pendleton airport. Thomas said.
“I think it’s very significant that there is now service to the Pendleton airport,” he said. “That’s important for people from La Grande who fly Horizon Air,” Thomas said.
Thomas said Community Connection’s initial contract with the tribes is for one year, with an option to renew.
“Presuming we’ve got riders we’ll renew — and I think that’s going to take care of itself,” Thomas said.
Three weeks ago, Community Connection started up its Elgin service, making two runs to and from the town 18 miles northeast of La Grande each Saturday.
The Saturday trips, priced at $2.50 each direction, coincide with scheduling of the Wallowa-Union Railroad’s Two Rivers excursion trains into the Wallowa River Canyon. The trains leave the railroad’s Elgin depot each Saturday at 10 a.m.
The first Elgin run of the day leaves La Grande at 9 a.m. and arrives in Elgin about 9:30 a.m. The return trip is at 9:45. An afternoon bus leaves La Grande at 1:25 p.m.
Peggy Allen of Alegre Travel said she contacted Thomas earlier this year about the possibility of bus service to the Elgin depot.
“There are a lot of seniors who would love to ride the train, and I hate to see them miss out because they can’t get to Elgin. It’s such a wonderful, nostalgic trip,” Allen said.
Thomas also hopes to provide bus service to and from Wallowa County a couple of days a week, beginning some time this fall.
interior work: Brian Clark of La Grande Drywall uses stilts to reach his work during a recent shift at the Union County transit hub. The new building, adjacent to the Union County Senior Center, will be complete and open for business early this fall. - The Observer/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
“I think Wallowa County will come on line about the time we open the new building,” he said.
Ground was broken for the new transit hub, located adjacent to the Senior Center on Cove Avenue, in March.
When completed, the 6,000-square-foot transportation center will bring together under one roof several local transportation providers.
Community Connection’s fixed route transit system and its Dial-A-Ride program will be headquartered there, and the agency’s transportation manager will have an office.
Greyhound Bus, now taking passengers at a stop at the Flying J Travel Plaza outside La Grande, will move to the hub.
ARC Cab Company, which had earlier planned to operate out of the new building, has decided not to do that. The cab company will, however, coordinate with Greyhound and make pickups and deliveries at the hub.
The building is up and local contractors are working on the interior. Thomas said he expects the hub to be complete late in the summer or early in the fall.
“I’ll be ecstatic if they get it done in another 45 days, and happy if they get it done in 60,” he said.
In some related news, Thomas recently released figures that show a big jump in use of public transit in La Grande. He said he suspects high gas prices are driving ridership up.
“While there is insufficient data to prove an empirical cause and effect relationship, a correlation is evident,” he said.
In 2005, when gas was just over $2 a gallon, Community Connection provided about 42,000 rides.
Thomas projects that more than 60,000 riders will use the transit system this year.