Questions arise about transportation for residents of new project

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An MTD bus makes the turn from Cobblefield onto Inverness. The corner is about a block from the entrance where affordable housing is under construction in Champaign on Tuesday, October 28, 2014.

By Lauren Rohr/For — Future residents of a new affordable housing site in west Champaign who don’t own a car may have trouble getting around town because of limited public transportation access.

The Housing Authority of Champaign County’s newest mixed-income housing development, Providence at Thornberry, is being built in the Turnberry Ridge subdivision on the far west side of Champaign.

Currently, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District offers one route that services that location — the pink route — during the day on weekdays.

But the pink route, which runs between the Duncan and Crestridge and the Country Fair bus stops, does not run after 7 p.m. or during the weekends.

Esther Patt, director of the Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union, said she worries that tenants of the new development will have trouble getting around the Champaign-Urbana area and could struggle to efficiently get to work or to the store.

“There are so many people who need this type of housing who don’t have cars,” Patt said. “It was a bad site; it was a bad place to choose.”

Ed Bland, executive director of the Housing Authority, said the Housing Authority has not been in contact with the transportation district about the services it offers that particular area.

“They already have public transportation in that area,” he said. “I have not spoken with MTD. I’m sure they’re all aware of what’s coming out here, and they can tell you what their plans are based on their schedule.”

The district does not have an immediate plan to expand the bus service to that location, Marketing Manager Jan Kijowski said. Currently, the route averages about 30 riders per day, but MTD plans to analyze and review the pink route schedule in fall 2015.

“We’ll certainly monitor it very closely and make changes as we see the need,” she said. “There is no weekend service out there right now, so that may be something we need to take a look at.”

The Providence at Thornberry site will have 160 units and will serve families with 30 percent to 60 percent area median income, said Torian Priestly, executive vice president of development for Atlanta-based The Benoit Group. For Champaign County, the median income was $45,088 annually from 2008-2012, according to the Census Bureau.

Rent will range from $865 to $1,130 for that site.

A second Providence development, Providence at Sycamore Hills, will have 92 units, and rent will cost between $685 and $937.  Sycamore Hills will be located at Bradley and McKinley avenues.

The developers do take public transportation into consideration when choosing housing locations, Priestly said. Based on the higher rent at the Providence at Thornberry site, the residents at that location will likely have higher incomes, and Priestly expects most to have their own vehicles.

“As you are aware, we have two sites that both serve mixed demographics and income levels,” Priestly said in an email. “The Sycamore site … will provide transportation options for residents who may not have a car.”

Construction for both Providence sites is expected to be complete by November 2015, Priestly said, and applications will be accepted starting in December of this year.

“I’m not saying that we don’t have a plan for the future, but as of right now, we don’t have any information that we can provide related to future transportation options for that area,” Priestly said.

The timeline allows for time to assess any additional need for more public transportation to that area, Kijowski said.

“One of the things that’s very important as a public transportation provider is to serve the areas that need service,” she said. “If we were asked to modify the way the route travels through there or look at coming a different path, we would certainly consider that.”

The Housing Authority assigned 135 project-based vouchers to the Providence at Thornberry site, according to the Housing Authority’s annual report. Families who live in those units will receive subsidized rent.

“I’m not thrilled about a whole bunch (of project-based vouchers) assigned to an apartment complex where you can’t live if you don’t have a car,” Patt said.

“I’m worried (the Housing Authority) thinks it’s already fixed. They’re talking about starting to sign leases in December. I cannot look consciously for anyone (to live) there who does not have a car.“

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