Kannapolis breaks ground for new transit center
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó With ridership nearly doubling in four years and the popular Rowan Express underway, the bus system that serves Kannapolis and Concord will have a permanent home by next summer.
Officials broke ground Thursday on a $1.9 million transit center that will stand equidistant between the cities, just off I-85 at Exit 58.
“It’s just about as dead center as you can get,” said L.J. Weslowski, general manager of the Concord-Kannapolis Rider Transit System. “It’s going to make a huge difference for folks who live or work in Kannapolis or want to visit there.”
The new facility will cut travel time in half on the blue route, which serves Kannapolis and carries about 200 passengers a day, Weslowski said.
The transit system, which began in 2004, has used a temporary outdoor hub in Concord. Many blue route passengers had to make two transfers, one at the hub and another at the old Kmart building, Weslowski said.
The new center will include indoor and outdoor waiting areas, customer service agents, restrooms and a $700,000 automatic locating system, paid for with federal stimulus funds, that will tell passengers where their bus is in real time.
The facility “will give a sense that the transit system has fully arrived in our community,” Weslowski said.
Ridership has grown from 266,000 passengers in 2005 to 414,000 last year. The system averages 1,300 to 1,400 riders per day.
“Ridership is going through the roof,” Assistant City Manager Eddie Smith said.
The new transit center will mean quicker connections for Rowan Express riders as well, Smith said.
A low-cost bus service between Salisbury and Kannapolis, Rowan Express started in April and had 862 riders by the end of May. The fare is $1, and transfers are free.
More than 300 Rowan Express riders transferred to the CK Rider system in April and May.
New bus riders often rely on fellow passengers for information about routes, transfers, stops and cost, Weslowski said. While information is available at a transit office and Kannapolis and Concord city halls, none is on a bus route.
“Now, they kind of figure it out for themselves,” he said, which can be frustrating.
All buses will stop at the new transit center, and passengers can gather information or ask questions.
The federal government will pay 80 percent of the $1.9 million price tag for the facility, which will feature energy-efficient windows and a “green” roof with vegetation.
The state and the city of Concord each will pay 10 percent of the cost. The transit center is within the Concord city limits.
The city of Kannapolis will help pay for furniture and equipment. Kannapolis and Concord officials oversee the Rider system.
In addition to the high-tech bus locating devices, federal stimulus funds will pay for automated fare boxes ($300,000), two service vehicles ($145,000) and furnishings ($100,000).
The system has seven routes, and the new center can accommodate up to 10.
If ridership continues to grow, the system will need to expand, Weslowski said.
While buses in the afternoon are often nearly full, morning buses sometimes appear close to empty. But observers might not realize how many people get on and off a bus within an hour, Weslowski said.
“That can cause a misconception, when people see only a few people riding,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic success story.”
Current stops within the Rider system include: Kannapolis Amtrak Station, Cannon Village, Cannon YMCA, CMC-Northeast, Carolina Mall, Concord Mills Mall, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Afton Ridge/Village, Barber-Scotia College, S&D Coffee and RCCC Business & Technical Center.