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Park-and-ride in Haywood gains traction

A shuttle to transport commuters between Haywood and Buncombe counties is gaining momentum following the state’s recent offer to donate land for a park-and-ride lot.

The proposed lot is at Exit 33 along I-40 in Canton on land owned by the Department of Transportation. The DOT would pay to pave and light the lot, according to Mark Clasby, Haywood County’s Economic Development Director.

The acquisition of land for the park and ride is a final piece of the puzzle to getting the system up and running. A vehicle to shuttle riders will come from the non-profit Mountain Projects agency, which already operates public transportation internally within Haywood County.

The park and ride system would target the some 4,000 Haywood residents who work in Buncombe County, a number estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau. Users looking to save gas and money or avoid traffic would park their vehicles in the lot, pay a fare and take public transit to one of two or three dropoff sites in Bumcombe. Exit 50 near Mission Hospital and the Asheville Transit Authority have been debated as possible dropoff locations.

The Smoky Mountain News first reported on a potential park and ride system for Haywood in July, when Mountain Projects, the nonprofit agency in charge of the county’s public transit, received a grant to develop a transportation system between Haywood and Buncombe counties.

At the time, commuters who were told about the idea expressed an interest in learning more. Many said cost was a major factor in whether they would take public transportation. A shuttle would have to save them money before they would consider trading in the freedom of having a personal vehicle. Keeping costs low is a challenge for public transportation, since drivers must be paid and buses must be filled in order to break even.

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Though a timeline has not been set, the project will likely continue to move forward since it has garnered support from several bodies, including the county commissioners and Haywood Community College.

“I think this is a good thing,” said Commissioner Skeeter Curtis.

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