Ninilchik Tribe plans for regional public transit

KENAI — Ninilchik officials say public transit service is making its way to the Kenai Peninsula with the help of a $300,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

Darrel Williams, Resource and Environmental Department Director for the Ninilchik Traditional Council, said the organization is looking to start adding 15-passenger buses to fill its garage, which is attached to the Ninilchik Tribe’s 4,000-square-foot transit building, KBBI-AM reported.

Williams said more than $1 million has gone into the construction of the building in Ninilchik, located 38 miles southwest of Kenai. It will serve as the region’s transportation hub.

“We’ve already bought the property; we’ve already built the building. This is really one of the final steps to actually make this service happen,” said Williams.

Initial plans for the bus service focused solely on the local community, but the council has since considered extending service to the western peninsula’s major population areas of Homer, Kenai and Soldotna.

“That service would consist of a fixed route service that would go from Ninilchik, as a hub, where everybody would meet,” said Williams. “And then we’d have a bus that would go from Ninilchik to Homer and back. And we’d have a bus that would go from Ninilchik to Kenai/Soldotna and back. And the idea is that the buses could meet in the middle and then the people could actually switch from one to the other and then actually travel the entire Kenai Peninsula.”

Tribal officials said the transit service will increase access to health care and education for the tribe. The neighboring Kenaitze tribe recently built a new Native hospital in Kenai and both Soldotna and Homer have colleges.

The lack of public transportation in the region has been a concern shared among residents across the Kenai Peninsula. A group of citizens started the Kenai Peninsula Transportation Task Force in September.

“A route system is what our community needs; it’s what our community wants,” said Shari Conner, chair of the task force. “It will help with tourism, people getting to and from work — there are a lot of people in our community that are unable to drive due to no licenses or lack of funds for transportation,” said Conner.

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