Highlands Trial Bus Run Approved

WHEELING — As early as next Monday, Ohio Valley residents may have public bus service to The Highlands in Ohio County.

After months of debate, the Ohio Valley Regional Transportation Authority has decided to run buses to The Highlands retail development.

During a special board meeting in Wheeling City Council chambers Tuesday, OVRTA board members Charles Ballouz, T.J. Posin, Mike Nau, Donald Mason, Garrett Daniel, Ed Kuca, Tim McCormick and board president Robert Herron unanimously voted in favor of allowing a trial service to the Ohio County development, near Dallas Pike.

Tom Hvizdos, executive director of OVRTA, said the run could begin as early as Monday, depending on how quickly the final details — such as drivers’ schedules — can be resolved.

Herron, who also serves as Wheeling’s city manager, said he wants the service to begin as soon as possible.

“It is my goal to have the trial run start on Monday,” he said.

Herron previously said the trial run would not cause a reduction in service anywhere in the current OVRTA system.

During an October meeting, representatives of The Highlands’ Wal-Mart, Wendy’s and the planned Wild Escape theme park told board members why they should agree to send buses to the development that lies about five miles east of Elm Grove, which is currently the easternmost stop in the OVRTA system.

The board later agreed to a motion by Posin to send buses to the development — as long as businesses there were willing to subsidize the service. Herron recently said the bus company would provide 40 percent of the funding for a trial run to The Highlands, provided the businesses or county officials were willing to foot 60 percent of the cost.

Last week, the Ohio County Commission voted to provide up to $30,000 (60 percent) toward the cost of a $50,000, six-month trial that would provide service four hours per day, Monday through Saturday.

The daily schedule for the trial run calls for the bus to be at the Capitol Music Hall in downtown Wheeling at 7 a.m.; at 16th and Market streets at 7:05 a.m.; at The Highlands’ Wal-Mart at 7:25 a.m.; at Fashion Bug in the The Highlands’ Power Center at 7:30 a.m.; and at The Highlands’ Target at 7:40 a.m. The bus will then be back at the Capitol by 8 a.m. before repeating the run and returning to the Capitol at 9 a.m.

The bus will then begin another run at the Capitol at 2 p.m., and will follow the aforementioned route before concluding its run at the theater at 4 p.m.

Hvizdos said passengers also should have the option of stopping at Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, T.J. Maxx and other businesses in the Power Center. “It will just depend on how much time we have and how much traffic there is up there at a given time,” he said of the additional stops.

County officials have said a trial run to The Highlands would be beneficial because it will let everyone know what the demand for such service is.

McCormick, who also serves as president of the Ohio County Commission, said he is glad the service will be offered to citizens of Wheeling.

“The Ohio County Commission will assess what action we should take at the end of the trial period in terms of how we can continue service, but I am glad this is going to happen,” he said.

Posin said the most important thing for OVRTA to consider is maintaining a balanced budget.

“We will need to evaluate how well this is working at the end of 90 days because we need to make sure we are covering our expenses properly,” he said.

Nau, who also serves as Wheeling’s vice mayor, said there will need to be regular reviews of the costs of the service — as well as the cost structure — because the funding formula for the run to The Highlands is unique.

“All other routes are funded through the normal means of adopting a levy, so we will need to see how this is going to make sure we are covering our costs,” he said.

Nau also said he did not think there was as much contention between board members regarding the issue of sending buses to The Highlands as some believe.

“The newspaper missed on this issue because this has always been strictly a financial issue and has not been about Wheeling against Ohio County,” he said.