A long awaited home for the buses of Prairie Hills Transit (PHT) is finally a dream come true. Barb Cline, Executive Director of Prairie Hills Transit, said that after several previous attempts to build, spanning a timeframe of about 20 years the purchase of a new building is final.
After receiving a federal grant to build a transit facility in Hot Springs, staff of the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT) and PHT began looking for a building site. This is the fourth construction project PHT has been approved for and criteria is very regimented in new construction.
“Things like traffic patterns, environmental concerns, and proximity to the customer base are all taken into consideration,” Cline said. Perhaps as important is that the transit agency must be able to provide proof that local cash match support from the community will be available.
Knowing that the process was not going to be quick, PHT began requesting local cash match from local sources through grant applications, Cline said. Black Hills Energy awarded $15,000 and provided employees for removal of weeds during a United Way Day of Caring project this year. First Interstate Bank branches of Edgemont, Hill City, Custer and Hot Springs provided $2,500.
After reviewing potential construction locations the city of Hot Springs offered, the consensus was that neither site was conducive to use for the building. A couple of months after the project was put on hold, Cline received information that Rick’s Auto Center & Sales, Inc. was for sale.
“The building was perfect for our needs,” said Cline, and after meeting with Allen Eudy they agreed this was a great fit.
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Although the city of Hot Springs was approached to provide local cash match for the building purchase, the city declined to assist.
It was disappointing because PHT would be filling a building that is very visible and had been sitting empty, Cline said.
Cline went on to say public transportation is an extremely important asset to community residents. The city of Hot Springs is funding the operating local cash match request at $5,000, which is half the request for $10,000. The approved grant of $300,000 in federal dollars provides 80% of the purchase and an additional 20% local cash match of $75,000 is required to be raised locally.
The wheels of the federal government don’t move quickly, Cline said, and changing from a construction project to a purchased building took some time. Beginning in April, the anticipated process started with an appraisal, building inspection, categorical exclusion paperwork, and approval by both the Hot Springs Advisory Board and the PHT Governing Board.
The building will also serve as a satellite maintenance shop, store the Hot Springs transit buses, includes a wash bay to keep the buses clean even during cold weather, and has office space for both drivers. Drivers Rodney Austin and Larry Pratt say it’s a dream come true.
“It sure was nice during that first snow to have buses that we didn’t need to scrape ice and snow from,” Pratt said.
The maintenance shop will service PHT vehicles located in Hot Springs, Custer and Edgemont and will also have a backup vehicle available in the event there are mechanical issues with the vehicles on the road.
Red tape and government regulations aside, Cline said PHT closed on their new facility on Sept. 19. Plans to add signage and improve some areas of the property are underway.