Federal grant brings $34.7 million for new eco-friendly Summit Stage public bus depot | SummitDaily.com

Federal grant brings $34.7 million for new eco-friendly Summit Stage public bus depot

A Summit Stage bus pulls into a stop on Main Street in Frisco on Aug. 31, 2021. The Colorado Department of Transportation was awarded $34.7 million in grant money to go towards building a new Summit Stage Charging and Operation bus facility on Monday, August 15, 2022.
Grace Coomaraswamy/For the Summit Daily News

When federal transportation grant awards were announced Monday night, Summit County Manager Scott Vargo thought there was a typo. 

The Colorado Department of Transportation was awarded a $34.7 million grant that has been earmarked for building a new hub for the Summit Stage, Summit County’s free public transportation service. 

Chris Lubbers, transit director at Summit Stage, says up to 1.7 million people use Summit County’s bus system per year.

“It is, of course, a key issue for so many folks in Summit County,” Summit County Commissioner Joshua Blanchard said. “It’s not just a workforce issue. It’s also a livability issue.” 

At Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, Vargo said he double and triple checked the grant amount before breaking the good news, simply because he couldn’t believe the county’s luck. 

Last year, county officials applied for the same grant, but Summit County was not awarded any money. This time around, out of 150 cities that received the same grant, Summit County received the 8th largest amount, Vargo said. 

The grant will be used to build a new bus depot for Summit Stage, which will expand the space and ability to charge and store electric buses. It will also include a small emergency housing space for Summit Stage drivers.

Vargo said some drivers live in Park or Lake counties and don’t finish their shifts until 2 or 3 a.m. The housing can also be used in the event of bad weather or for transitional housing in the case of a new hire, Vargo added. 

The effort to update Summit Stage started in 2015. While the current facility “still has some use,” Vargo said the size of the county’s bus fleet and the size of the buses themselves have become too large for the 30-year-old facility. 

However, “The Summit Stage simply doesn’t have 30, or 40, or 50 million dollars available to it to build a facility like this on its own,” Vargo said. 

Since inflation and the cost of construction has skyrocketed over the past year, Vargo said this grant was much needed and will help improvements come to fruition.

“Without this grant, we would not be able to move forward anywhere near the time frame that we would be now,” he said.

The increased ability to charge electric buses will allow them to grow the size of their fleet, which will also help the county to move the dial on their climate action plan, Blanchard said. 

According to a news release from Summit County government officials, the plan for Summit Stage “aligns with the local Climate Action Plan and Summit County’s goal of reducing emissions from transportation 25% by 2030 and 91% by 2050.”

Right now, many of the Summit Stage buses are diesel. According to Lubbers, that means the buses only get 4 mpg for fuel efficiency. And though it takes 15 minutes to fill a bus with diesel fuel and four hours to charge an electric bus, Lubbers says electric buses get an energy-use equivalent of 16 mpg. 

“During an 8-hour driving shift, an (electric) bus will use about the same amount of energy as an average single-family home would consume in a month,” Lubbers said in an email. “In comparison, a diesel bus would use substantially more energy because diesel buses are 1/4 as efficient as their electric counterparts.”

Planning for the new bus facility will most likely be finished in the spring, with construction starting in the fall. The construction will take approximately 18 months to complete, officials say. 

Vargo recognized Lubbers and Elise Neyerlin, the Summit County Government grant administrator, for their hard work in writing the grant. 

“This is an exciting win for Summit County. It really is,” Blanchard said.

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