Bus routes to change

Published 9:53 pm Thursday, July 8, 2010

Some changes in public bus service are coming for Suffolk, and even more could be in store.

As part of numerous changes being made system-wide, the Hampton Roads Transit MAX bus now will service the downtown Suffolk core. In addition, the stop on Route 71 at the downtown Suffolk Walmart will move to the outer ring of the parking lot, near the Fire Mountain restaurant.

“The MAX is our premium express bus service,” said Tom Holden, spokesman for Hampton Roads Transit. “It’s designed and operated to move people longer distances. They are true commuter bus services.”

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The MAX bus now will run between downtown Portsmouth and downtown Suffolk. The commuter service will operate between County and Court streets in Portsmouth and the transfer lot on Saratoga Street in Suffolk, with stops at Victory Crossing, Chesapeake Center and the Magnolia park-and-ride lot on Portsmouth Boulevard in Suffolk. Previously, the MAX only came as far into Suffolk as the park-and-ride lot. The bus runs from 5:30 to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 7 p.m.

“It’s been extremely popular,” Holden said. “They wanted to bring that into downtown.”

The change in the stop at Walmart will help bolster the punctuality of the buses and be safer for pedestrians, Holden said.

The changes in the MAX service and the Walmart stop go into effect Sunday. Other changes could come further down the road.

A proposed North Suffolk route currently is being evaluated by city and HRT officials. According to a staff report given in a City Council meeting Wednesday, the route would serve the Pughsville community, various apartment complexes, hospital facilities and shopping centers. It also would connect to other routes that already run through the area.

If it comes to fruition, however, there will be a price tag for taxpayers. The annual local cost would be $140,500, and the project will require about $2.3 million worth of road improvements.

Eric Nielsen, director of public works, said HRT has requested a traffic signal at the intersection of Townpoint and Bridge roads, as well as widening of Pughsville and Townpoint roads, before it will consider the new route. Council members seemed to agree the traffic signal is needed, but they considered the widening requirements unnecessary.

“I think that’s just a cop-out,” Nansemond borough representative Leroy Bennett said of the widening requirements. He agreed, however, that the community near the intersection of Townpoint and Bridge roads has been concerned about the intersection for some time.

Bennett pointed out that school buses already travel the narrow roads to pick up children.

HRT spokesman Holden said the transit agency understands the limitations on infrastructure funding, but the agency wants to avoid potential hazards.

“One might argue that it’s not ideal for children, either, to share the road with a bus,” he said. “These are large buses that would be moving along areas that don’t have curbs or drainage ditches. We have to be mindful of having pedestrians interface with buses and cars.”

At the suggestion of Councilman Jeffrey Gardy, members agreed to make public transportation a discussion topic at their upcoming retreat. Representatives from HRT will be invited to attend, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said.

For more information on HRT’s service, visit www.gohrt.com.