By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A relatively large group of local, state and national public officials gathered on Friday to celebrate the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new, $3.9 million Bluefield Area Transit Operations Facility located on John Nash Boulevard near Exit 1 off I-77. The event marks a watershed moment in the 95-year history of public transportation on the region.
“My only regret is that we couldn’t mount a BAT light on the top of the facility for all to see,” Susan L. O’Connell, executive director of the West Virginia Division of Public Transit said at the conclusion of her remarks prior to the ribbon cutting. O’Connell said that she rode the public bus to a Greyhound station to travel to her home when she was a student at Concord (now) University. She said she can recall shopping in downtown Bluefield, and added that the first date she had with the man who would become her husband of 40 years, was at Mitchell Stadium.
“I have a real personal connection with the public transit in this case,” she said. In addition to pointing out how the new facility will serve the Bluefield Area Transit, or the “BAT” system as it is called locally, she added that: “The Division plans to use the training room here.”
All of the speakers pointed with pride to the significance of the facility’s opening. “In today’s economy, our national commitment to public transit is more critical than ever,” U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said. “With each passing second, the global economy becomes more competitive, the world marketplace more challenging,” he said. “With a national price tag of $78 billion in unmet public transit needs alone, one thing is clear to all of us: States and localities cannot make these investments on their own. A strong federal commitment to assisting transit, roads and bridges spells one word crystal clear — jobs.”
Rahall said that when he went to Congress, he asked for a seat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and that he is now the senior Democrat on that committee. “Our nation’s federal transportation programs are set to expire next Sept. 30,” he said. “Congress must begin crafting a long-term, fully funded, comprehensive transportation bill.”
Paul A. Mattox Jr., secretary of the West Virginia Department of Transportation and commissioner of the Division of Highways said that there are “key benefits to improving rural and urban public transportation.” He said that a transportation network provides people with a “bridge” to meet their needs. He expressed thanks to everyone who worked to see the BAT facility become reality.
“You all are keeping public transit alive and well in West Virginia,” he said.
Bluefield Mayor Tom Cole said that it was fitting that he is serving as mayor at the important ceremony, because his father, Paul Cole, who also attended the ceremony, was mayor in 1991 when the Gateway Regional Transit Authority dissolved and the Bluefield Board of Directors assumed operations of a new entity called the Bluefield Transit Authority.
Cole expressed his appreciation to Patrick McKinney who has headed up the BAT operations for the past 21 years. “Patrick’s leadership with the Bluefield Area Transit System is phenomenal,” Cole said. “Patrick has done an outstanding job. He is a great asset to this organization.”
Cole also expressed the city’s pride in the fact that the facility is located on John Nash Boulevard. “Hopefully, this could be the start of development at Exit 1,” he said.
Welch Mayor Reba Honaker said that people at city hall in Welch are excited when “the BAT bus,” arrives. “We get calls at city hall asking for the BAT bus. It’s a great resource for Mercer and McDowell County. This is a growing transit service.”
Mary Jackson, visiting instructor Bluefield State College, humanities, School of Arts and Science sang the National Anthem, Jim Ferguson, Bluefield city manager led the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Reverend Garry Moore, pastor of Scott Street Baptist Church offered the invocation. A reception followed the ceremony.
— Contact Bill Archer at email@example.com