WATERTOWN — It’s going to be a little easier for Gustavo Vega and other riders to catch a bus along the city’s public transportation system.
That’s because the city soon will be putting up 60 signs that will designate bus stops along the CitiBus’s five routes. To catch a bus, riders currently flag down drivers, typically at street corners.
And they’ll have more shelters to keep out of the north country’s inclement weather.
Bus shelters on Franklin and State streets were recently built, with another one soon to be added on Mill Street, near the Stewarts Shop. In all, there will be 13 shelters that dot the city.
Mr. Vega, 43, who lives in Midtown Towers, describes himself as a frequent CitiBus rider, usually walking over from his apartment building on Mechanic Street to pick up a bus at the transfer center, next to the Woolworth Building, before heading out to Salmon Run Mall.
He was happy to hear about plans to expand the outer Arsenal Street route out to Walmart and the Target shopping center is expected to happen in about a year.
Plans also call for a new route to Fort Drum, said city Public Works Superintendent Patrick W. Keenan, who oversees the CitiBus system.
“Now I have to wait for my brother to take me there,” Mr. Vega said. “It’s going to be beneficial for everyone.”
CitiBus also will be purchasing another new $450,000 bus, this time a 30-foot transit bus, that will be used for one of the system’s fixed routes.
That vehicle joins a new $1 million, six-bus fleet brought on line last spring.
These projects will be paid through a state Department of Transportation program, federal funding and through the city’s Community Development Block Grant program.
The city also is getting on board with a new plan to hire someone to manage the system. For years, a proposed CitiBus traffic coordinator position has gone unfilled because no one wanted the job.
Instead, the city will bring on a mobility manager. St. Lawrence and Lewis counties have mobility managers to run their bus systems.
The city sent out Requests for Proposals for a person or entity to apply for the position. The RFPs are due in early December.
The mobility manager will run the day-to-day operations of the system, seek funding and put together expanded routes, Mr. Keenan said.
City officials believe it would be quicker to complete expansion plans to Fort Drum, other parts of Jefferson County and into other counties if they hired a mobility manager.
While it’s going through some immediate improvements, public transportation in Watertown and Jefferson County could see some major expansion in the years to come.
Overseen by the state Department of Transportation, the Watertown-Jefferson County Area Transportation Council recently finished a final draft of its transit study that outlines a series of long-range plans for public transportation in the county.
The Transportation Council is looking at providing public transportation through five new network routes to connect with such communities outside of Watertown as Dexter, Adams, Carthage, Clayton, Sackets Harbor and Alexandria Bay.
The council is looking at what entity would operate the system and how it would be funded.
A final report is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
County legislator John Peck, chairman of the transportation council, said it’s been a longtime goal to expand public transportation throughout the county.
He acknowledged that it will take some convincing of the more conservative county lawmakers that the expansion is needed.
“We’re looking at how the system could be run effectively and efficiently and in the best interest of our people in the county,” he said.
Eventually, riders could catch a bus in Watertown and end up connecting with St. Lawrence and Lewis county systems, taking them to Gouverneur, Lowville or beyond.
CitiBus riders can again catch public transportation to go shopping on Sundays during the busy holiday season.
The holiday bus service will be held on four Sundays, starting this weekend and runs through Dec. 22.
Hours of operation will be from 8:20 a.m. to 4:20 p.m.
Here are the routes and times:
Route A-1 State Street and East Main Street — First at 8:20 a.m. Last at 3 p.m.
Route B Arsenal Street/Salmon Run Mall (Runs every 40 minutes) — First at 8:20 a.m. Last at 3:40 p.m.
Route C-1 North Side Loop — First at 8:20 a.m. Last at 3 p.m.
Route A-2 Washington Street — First at 9:00 a.m. Last at 3:40 p.m.
Route C-2 Coffeen Street/Jefferson Community College — First at 9 a.m. Last at 3:40 p.m.
Paratransit service also will be offered on those Sundays.
There will be a fourth bus in operation on those dates. The buses will run from Salmon Run Mall to Walmart, Sam’s Club, the Target shopping plaza, Kohl’s, Lowe’s and then to Hanneford before meeting with a bus at the mall. The bus will run every 40 minutes.