PARTA to build $3M natural gas station

KENT — Portage County’s public busing system has taken a major step toward cleaner emissions — and the ability to offer that service to the public — by building the county’s first compressed natural gas station.

The Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority awarded Clean Energy of California a $2.8 million design-and-build contract for a compressed natural gas station at PARTA’s headquarters, 2000 Summit Street. The station is set for a June 2018 completion date.

The contract was unanimously approved by PARTA’s Board of Directors on July 27.

Clean Energy is the largest domestic distributor of natural gas fuel in North America, operating more than 500 natural gas fueling stations in 43 states, according to Clean Energy’s website.

PARTA, whose service area totals approximately 500 square miles, will also purchase eight new CNG buses over the next four years with assistance from the Ohio Diesel Emissions Reduction Grant and the Ohio Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, statewide programs to replace or refurbish aging diesel engines, Clean Energy officials said.

“We’re excited about the addition of these buses and breaking ground on a new station,” said Claudia Amrhein, PARTA’s general manager. “And we are excited to partner with Clean Energy and bring clean CNG buses to our riders.”

Five years ago, PARTA received a $2.2 million federal grant, she said, to pay for the project, which was not to exceed $3 million after a 5 percent contingency.

Bringing a compressed natural gas station to Portage County is a significant contribution to the area’s infrastructure, Amrhein said, adding she is firm believer in the fuel because it’s cleaner and domestic.

“It reduces our reliance on foreign oil,” she said.

When the new station is built, private citizens and companies will be able to drive up and fuel their CNG vehicles. The public will use the same driveway as do PARTA buses.

A single fueling island will be located off the existing driveway leading into PARTA’s administrative offices, and will include a canopy, one dual-hose dispenser and one dual compressor, she said. Budget constraints reduced the scope of the project from two islands to a single fueling island (one for the public and another for third-party fueling).

“A gas detection system will provide a safe environment for fueling by the public, third parties and PARTA personnel fueling CNG vehicles,” she said.

PARTA hopes to secure the necessary funding to build a second driveway to act as a backup. A portion of existing facilities were renovated to service CNG vehicles. A bus wash area is in future plans.

“I want this to be a one-stop shop for CNG vehicles,” she said. “I’m very passionate about this.”

“So far, Kent State University, city of Kent and the Kent City Schools are recognizing the economic and environmental benefits CNG can bring to Portage County,” Amrhein said. “At least 10 other local fleet owners are considering the benefits of CNG.”

PARTA’s goal is to open the CNG station and have two new 35-foot CNG buses by June 2018, said Amrhein. Clean Energy plans to break ground on the Summit Street facility early next year.

Amrhein credited Bowen and Associates with overseeing garage renovations to accommodate the servicing of CNG vehicles and for completing 30 percent of the station’s plans before the project went to bid. Clean Energy will complete the designs prior to breaking ground, she said.

Grant funding includes the costs to tap into an existing high-pressure natural gas line, she added. Dominion East Ohio Gas will run a connector line to PARTA’s facility about a month before the station is ready to open, she said.

“Bringing CNG to Portage County is the next component of PARTA’s long range strategic plan to make significant infrastructure investments to benefit Portage County today and in the future,” Amrhein said.

The Kent Central Gateway opened in 2013, spurring economic development in downtown Kent, and offers a 10-bus hub, 348 space parking deck, street level retail spaces, electric vehicle charging stations and a Veterans Memorial.