Quentarus Brown, the general manager of Augusta Public Transit, has seen the lengths Fort Gordon soldiers go to in order to make a weekend trip to the mall or enjoy a night on the town.
“They pack five to a taxicab,” Brown said. “It’s ridiculous that’s what they have to do.”
On Tuesday, the Augusta Commission gave city administrators permission to study a three-phase approach to public transit that Brown’s staff developed to increase ridership and revenue for taxpayers.
The first step of the plan is for the city to spend $321,441 annually to create an hourlong Monday-through-Saturday route that would connect Fort Gordon to Augusta Mall.
After that, the proposal involves spending $561,886 to add a spare bus to Augusta Mall and Washington Road loops in an effort to cut the two service’s 80-minute route time in half.
The final phase would include paying an additional $820,000 to increase morning and evening hours and expand service to south Augusta and the Doug Barnard Parkway flea markets.
“To me, it’s not expense. It’s an investment,” Brown said of the plan, which has been in the works for more than a month. “Regardless of if we approve this measure now or later, these are service areas we will need to be addressed eventually.”
Though the new Fort Gordon route will include four stops on federal property, it is unclear whether the Army would share some of the costs of the service increases.
Fort Gordon spokesman J.C. Mathews said the post’s garrison command will discuss details of the plan with city officials Friday.
Mathews said talks of a Fort Gordon route, which would include stops at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Barton Field, the post exchange and the visitor center, have ebbed and flowed for much of the past decade.
This year, discussions intensified when District 4 Augusta Commission member Alvin Mason announced his run for mayor. Two–thirds of Mason’s district includes Fort Gordon, a 55,000-acre Army post that, records show, has a population of 15,000 service members, a residential population of 2,800 families and an annual economic impact of $1.4 billion on the region.
As a signal soldier who began his 20-year Army career at Fort Gordon in 1984, Mason said the lack of a route connecting the post to Augusta is very dissatisfying, especially with talks that the post might become the next home to the Army Cyber Command, bringing 1,500 jobs to the area.
“It has created a great inconvenience for the people who defend our freedoms,” Mason said. “We need to take better care of them.”
On Monday, more than a half-dozen soldiers who were visiting the mall and the surrounding retail areas declined to comment on the issue because the proposal was not final. Mathews said he believes the addition of another route would be welcomed.
“As a community, we are very grateful the city is trying to make this happen,” Mathews said. “We think it (is) a great opportunity for service members stationed at Fort Gordon to better take advantage of all the city has to offer. It also could make it easier the 47,000 retirees who rely on the installation for medical care and other entitlements.”
Mathews said any passengers who do not have permission to access Fort Gordon would have to exit the bus at the post’s visitors center.
Mason said he hopes to make the plan a reality, if anything to improve the quality of life for the area’s military personnel.
“They should be able to see our city and enjoy their time here without having to spend an arm and a leg to do it,” he said.