20180114_MET_HENR

Several Henrico County supervisors say that extending a GRTC bus route to Short Pump is a necessary reflection of how residents rely on public transportation to get to work.

Henrico County supervisors want to expand GRTC bus service to Short Pump, with instructions to the county staff to include funding in the next budget.

The development came Saturday on the last day of a two-day retreat held at the Virginia Crossings Hotel and Conference Center in Glen Allen. Staff from across the county’s departments were presenting trends and possible goals for Henrico in an effort to hear what the Board of Supervisors wanted to prioritize.

Supervisors ultimately agreed on the benefits of extending GRTC service but had expressed differing senses of urgency.

Tyrone E. Nelson of the Varina District said he did not understand why a locality with a nearly $1 billion annual budget had yet to devote the necessary money to bring bus service to what he calls Henrico’s “center of the universe.”

County staff presented estimates showing that expanding GRTC’s Route 19 to Short Pump — it now runs from downtown Richmond to the Costco at West Broad Street and Springfield Road — would cost about $800,000 annually.

“I still don’t understand why it is like pulling teeth to get public transportation to Short Pump,” said Nelson, the board’s vice chairman. “This is a 2018 need.”

He said there are people who depend on public transportation to get to work, but Henrico has not made it a priority to help them reach the jobs epicenter of Short Pump.

“It saddens my heart to know that this is not a priority,” Nelson said.

The two other Democrats on the board, Courtney Lynch of the Brookland District and Chairman Frank J. Thornton of the Fairfield District, echoed Nelson’s sentiments.

“We’re not doing enough for job access,” Lynch said. “When you look at things we spend money on, this should be something where we can get creative and get things done.”

Thornton said factors of what he called classism and elitism have played a part in Henrico’s conversation about transportation, and that some critics do not want bus service expanded in the western portion of the county. He said that should not stand in the way of improving public transit.

“I suggest we take a new vista in Henrico County about transportation,” Thornton said. “Let’s kind of do more lofty planning.”

County Manager John Vithoulkas said the directive of the board was clear and that staff would prepare a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes GRTC extension to Short Pump.

The board’s two Republicans agreed that expanding public transportation was important, but they had different responses to the calls for accelerating the process.

Supervisor Thomas M. Branin, whose Three Chopt District includes Short Pump, said he agreed with Nelson’s comments but favored an incremental approach. Branin was concerned about how western Henrico, with its current slate of traffic problems, would be affected by adding more bus service.

“We have so many issues on Broad Street,” Branin said. “Let’s do this in bites.”

Supervisor Patricia S. O’Bannon of the Tuckahoe District had wondered if a private company could partner with Henrico to expand its bus service.

Vithoulkas said bus service was among the topics that spurred the meetings to discuss Henrico’s future. He said the county has made significant investments in its transit network and that he understood the board to be saying there were still gaps that needed to be addressed.

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