Mar. 30—BLUEFIELD — A new transit center that will give commuters a safe, dry and well-lit place where they can wait for buses taking them to work, errands and home was celebrated Monday when West Virginia's governor joined other dignitaries for a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony.
By December this year, passengers on the Bluefield Area Transit (BAT) buses that serve Mercer and McDowell counties as well as the communities of Bluefield and Welch will be served by a new transit center offering shelter from the weather as well as restrooms and other facilities. The new facility will also shelter Greyhound bus passengers.
State, federal and local dignitaries met Monday afternoon at the Bluefield Art Center for a groundbreaking ceremony. The actual transit facility will be off Bluefield Avenue near the Flowers Bakery outlet.
"Over the last several years, Bluefield has been on a transitional movement, a rebirth, a revival, a Renaissance if you will," City Manager Dane Rideout told the guests. "Led by the progressive and creative leadership of (Mayor) Ron Martin and the City Board of Directors, this city has taken charge of its destiny, created a positive culture and environment, concentrated on strategic messaging, expanded past its city borders to partner with other municipalities and states and has internally crafted processes and teams to make it a safe and prosperous location to work, live, play and learn."
In December 2020, the West Virginia Department of Transportation awarded the bid to build the Transfer Center to Swope Construction for $2,678,000. Rideout also thanked the Hugh I. Shott Foundation for a "generous donation" to the project.
Rideout credited Patrick McKinney, director of the Bluefield Area Transit (BAT), for bringing the new transit center into being and expanding BAT's services. In 2019, BAT carried nearly 212,000 passengers, including 127,983 elderly and 15,966 passengers with disabilities.
McKinney, who started his career in 1993, has been with the bus system for 28 years. He was promoted to general manager in 1998, and has been the system's director since 2020. During his career, McKinney has received recognitions including West Virginia's first certified transit manager through the Community Transportation Association of America. He is also a four-time recipient of the West Virginia Division of Public Transit Manager of the Year Award.
Under McKinney's leadership, BAT has grown considerably since 1998, Rideout said. During this time, BAT grew from three routes and five employees to nine routes and 32 employees today; these figure are exclusive of medical transportation. Annual ridership of 60,000 increased to Pre-COVID ridership with a high of 225,000. Six years ago, McKinney started putting a process into place to modify the buses to use natural gas.
McKinney's work was recognized during Monday's ceremony when Gov. Jim Justice helped unveil the future transit station's sign: The Larlyn Patrick McKinney Regional Transfer Center.
"I had no idea. It was a complete surprise," McKinney said later of the unveiling. "It's humbling. Obviously, I want to give credit to the Good Lord."
"Obviously, it's going to give them a place to get out of the elements and give them a nice warm, dry place. Basically, they're out in the cold now and have been for years. We've been working on something for a long time," he said. "It will have a drivers' lounge and also a police presence."
McKinney said the new transit center is scheduled to be completed by December.
Justice said that the people behind the new transfer station and other developments in Bluefield "have done amazing work" in moving the city forward and overcoming adversity.
"You took cannonballs to the gut like you can't imagine," he said.
Despite economic setbacks, the City of Bluefield now has Intuit and Alcoa bringing hundreds of jobs to its downtown, Justice said. In 2019, Mitchell Stadium was named the USA Today Best High School Football Stadium in the country, and the community came together after the loss in 2019 of Bluefield High School athlete "Lil" Tony Webster. A bell honoring Webster is now in Mitchell Stadium.
"I just want how great it is that the Bluefield Transit Authority is going to have a beautiful center," said U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. "You know, I was thinking about why is this really important. Well, it's important for transporting workers and families, it's important for quality of life, it's important for Bluefield State when they're in the transit."
"But it also, I think, shows your community on the move," she said.
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