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Durango Transit recognized for reopening hospital route

COVID-19 relief money will help bring local transit back to where it was before state funding cuts in 2018
A mixture of COVID-19 relief and new transportation funding has allowed Durango Transit to resume service to Mercy Regional Medical Center, a move that was recognized by the Colorado Association of Transit Agencies. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Durango Transit received an award from the Colorado Association of Transit Agencies for reopening its route to Mercy Regional Medical Center and Three Springs to improve community access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines.

“Durango Transit drivers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and took on the addition of the Mercy and Three Springs route with enthusiasm,” said Sarah Hill, transportation director with Durango Transit. “This award is great recognition of their hard work connecting riders to essential services.”

COVID-19 relief money through the CARES Act allowed Durango Transit to resume the route in February 2021. The Mercy and Three Springs route has provided about 8,000 rides since it reopened. Additional COVID-19 relief funding through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act has been awarded to Durango Transit, and will keep the hospital route open through 2022.

Before 2018, Durango Transit was about 80% funded through federal operating grants that were distributed through the Colorado Department of Transportation. In 2018, CDOT changed its policy on distributing that federal funding based on more transit agencies.

Policy changes caused Durango Transit to lose 47% of its grant funding, which resulted in a cut of 30% of the agency’s routes. Durango Transit decided based on public outreach to eliminate its Crestview 160 route, the Mercy and Three Springs route, and the Fort Lewis College north route.

“Since 2018, we’ve really tried to identify a dedicated source of local funding so that we aren’t reliant on transit operating grants,” Hill said.

While Durango Transit continues to seek new funding sources, it has been given some breathing room thanks to the COVID-19 relief money. Not only does the relief money allow the agency to continue operation, it can also expand its service routes to levels they were at before funding cuts in 2018.

Additionally, Colorado Senate Bill 260 will provide Durango Transit with a new revenue stream, as the bill allocates $1.5 billion in general funds to be disbursed across transit agencies throughout the state.

“We’ve identified enough transit operating funding to return to our 2018 level of service for at least two years, to the end of 2023.” Hill said.

Before Durango Transit reopens all of its previous routes, an equity analysis is being done to make sure it isn’t disproportionately disadvantaging any populations or neighborhoods. The transit agency will also undergo a public information process to make sure it gets an idea of what the community’s true transit needs are.

“We’re anticipating returning to a higher level of service in the early part of 2022,” Hill said.

With new funding sources coming through the state, and being able to use COVID-19 relief money to alleviate budget constraints for the time being, Hill said she’s excited about transit potential for the area moving forward.

“It’s a fun time in transit, which hasn’t historically been the case,” Hill said. “We’ve received a significant amount of operating funding through some of the COVID relief packages that are letting us have some much needed service expansion conversations.”

njohnson@durangoherald.com

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