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Laura Ward, director of Country Roads Transit, attended the Feb. 24 Upshur County Commission meeting to deliver her annual report and request funding for their service. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

Regional transportation service seeks county funding to continue route to Clarksburg VA

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Commission will consider a request for additional funds from Country Roads Transit during their upcoming budget sessions.

Laura Ward, director of Country Roads Transit, attended the Feb. 24 Upshur County Commission meeting to deliver her annual report and request continued funding for their service.

Country Roads Transit, which provides reliable transportation services in the region for people who need it, operates on a grant that requires them to raise 50 percent of their funding as a match.

“Remember, Country Roads Transit runs on a grant that requires us to raise half those funds and match it – that means every dollar you invest in transit, gets you $2 worth of services,” Ward said.

Ward expressed the importance of having accessible, affordable and reliable public transportation and being able to travel in someone’s own hometown.

“What if you were disabled? What if you didn’t have a car? What if you didn’t have any family? How would you get to work? How would you get to the doctor? How would you get your medicine and pharmacy?” Ward said. “How do you get your groceries? What about travel to visit your friends? How would you do any recreational activity? Lack of access to transportation is a life-altering issue; it could alter your health, if that’s not addressed.”

During their 2021 fiscal year, Country Roads Transit provided 4,831 rides in Upshur County. Ward said 8.5 percent of those routes were for employment, 10.5 percent were for medical visits and appointments, 34 percent of those were for shopping and about 5 percent were for socialization.

“Because of COVID, we saw ridership plummet across the state, so we were no exception to that,” Ward said. “We do see that rebounding this year, as people get more comfortable living with it. We modified services for a short period of time, but we never stopped our services — not one day.”

She said in an ideal world, they would offer services 24 hours, seven days a week, but that would require a lot more funding.

“It’d be great if I had enough funding to do 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service and meet every single person but I don’t,” Ward said. “We’re stewards of this money, so we have to use this money where we can have the biggest impact and that’s what we’re doing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try to improve that service; we move forward.”

Ward said they Country Roads Transit aimed to expand their service by creating a route that would go through Elkins and Buckhannon, to the VA hospital in Clarksburg.

“We had veterans from Randolph and Upshur County telling us they couldn’t get to the VA because the vans that they used to use were donated, had mostly volunteer drivers and those vans were getting into disrepair,” Ward said. “There aren’t enough volunteers to drive them to the VA, so that’s what sparked this idea.”

They received permission to add the new route, but they still had to match the funds provided to them.

“I came to all governmental match partners [in 2021] — both counties or cities — and said we would do two days a week,” Ward recounted. “I want to go there [alternating] Mondays and Wednesdays and then Tuesdays and Thursdays, so we’re not missing any specialists who might be there one day a week.”

“The estimated cost was $40,000 and it’s a 50/50 match, so I needed to raise $20,000, but not a single entity gave us the extra funds,” she added.

Country Roads Transit was able to find the funds to meet the match and started offering the service in May 2021, however. Ward said the route was very popular, but now they are asking the commission to add an extra $5,000 to their normal contribution. During the 2021-2022 fiscal year budget session, commissioners allocated $10,000 to Country Roads Transit, according to a previous article.

The commission told Ward they would discuss her proposal in upcoming budget sessions, which begin Monday, March 14.

The city of Buckhannon approved Country Roads Transit $15,000 funding request during their Jan. 20 City Council meeting.

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