Garden City approves contract for public transit, expands bus stops

Expansion addresses complaints from residents about access and proximity to public transport


Garden City is expanding public transit in the Westside community and adding six new bus stops along Georgia 21, the main commercial corridor.

Garden City Council unanimously approved a contract to expand Chatham Area Transit (CAT) services during Monday’s council meeting. The expansion is funded entirely by the city, making it the first community in Chatham County to contract directly with CAT.

“This is a highlight for our city in more ways than one, and a culmination of six years of work,” said City Manager Scott Robider. “With the new K-12 and the growth of the port and camp community, this was a necessary action to help our community take advantage of these opportunities.”

The deal calls for $18,000 annually (from the city’s general fund) for the next five years. Robider said American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding would offset some of the cost. The city received approximately $3.25 million from ARPA.

More: Cities in Chatham County using United States Water and Sanitation Infrastructure Rescue Plan funds

Once CAT receives the right-of-way permits, construction of the six stations is expected to begin early next year, said Faye Q. DiMassimo, CAT CEO. The city is paying an additional $120,000 for the “deluxe bus stops,” which will feature solar-powered light panels, covered seating, ADA-compliant access, and trash cans.

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New CAT bus line “tremendous” help

Council members praised the deal during Monday night’s council meeting. District 3 Representative Natalyn Bates Morris said the expansion will help her constituents “enormously” as two of the stops in her district will be on Priscilla D. Thomas Way and Big Hill Road.

“This will be of great help to residents as the nearest stop is currently on the corner, just outside the Chatham City apartments. So residents who live in my district have to walk maybe a mile and a half. It’s good haul,” Morris said.

Garden City is the only community in Chatham County, aside from Savannah, that currently uses CAT public transit services. CAT also runs in the unregistered area.

The fixed bus routes, known as Route 3B and Route 3, stop along GA-21 at Minus Avenue, 3rd Street, Brampton Road, Prince Preston Way (Chatham City) and opposite Carey Hilliards restaurant, giving customers a ” great way” distance between the stops,” says Robider.

The GA-21 corridor is notorious for its poor walkability and a project is underway to improve conditions along the road for pedestrians and businesses.

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More: Study: Upgrading SR21 in Garden City would reduce accidents, traffic and improve walkability

The existing fixed bus route was approved by Garden City voters in the 1990s. Those residents who live in Georgia 21 and are within walking distance of the stops will pay the additional $1.15 million on their property taxes to fund the service. CAT also receives federal funding to operate the line.

Improving the quality of life of residents

However, the contract means that the extended part of the route will be funded entirely from general city funds. Had it been a referendum on the November vote, a citywide majority would have had to agree to a citywide expansion of the service. Stops would not be limited to just this corridor, and there is no general support for citywide expansion, Robider said.

“We’re taking cases one at a time,” he said, “there was never any thought of smashing voters. This is the only way this can be implemented promptly and in line with requirements.”

More: Pooler residents oppose public transport being funded with taxpayers’ money, but ‘the need is still there’

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During the May primary, Pooler residents voted against a referendum asking whether residents would support a 1.15 million increase in the millage to bring CAT’s public transport services to the city.

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“We’re not waiting for bureaucracy to be cut; We’re treating it like a business transaction for the good of the community,” said Robider.

Before: Leadership changes, operational challenges characterize the last 15 years of Chatham Area Transit

The city manager, as well as CAT CEO DiMassimo, acknowledged that the deal came about relatively quickly as staffing issues and organizational changes within CAT were curbed.

Garden City is home to a large number of port-related industries and warehouses as the community borders the Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City Terminal. However, the city is trying to contain the encroachment of industry and meet the needs of its residents. The expansion of local public transport is part of efforts to improve the quality of life in the industrial area.

The city expects to expand services beyond the Georgia 21 corridor to Dean Forest Road in the next phase, Robider said. A referendum is likely as Dean Forest is an industry-heavy street and the largely port-related companies would have to pay for the millage increase.

“The goal is to shift the burden onto industry rather than city residents,” Robider said. “But that also benefits them because the workers in the warehouses can use the service.”

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter for Chatham County communities. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @nancyguann.

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