TAPS expansion plans include buses, facilities and veterans

The Texoma Area Paratransit System has announced expansion plans, a veterans’ project and a complete overhaul of its current facility on Texoma Parkway.

TAPS currently has 94 buses in operation, but expects to increase that number to more than 120 by June of this year with the addition of 37 new buses purchased with a $4.2 million fleet replacement grant the service received, CEO and Executive Director Brad Underwood told the Sherman City Council last week. The additional vehicles will help service two new park-and-ride locations the public transit service is adding at Midway Mall in Sherman and Morton Street Plaza in Denison.

“We have about a 150 space parking lot at TAPS,” Underwood said. “We’re losing some of that with shop expansion, leaving us about 85 spots. Those are maxed out. There’s just no more space there from where we’re at, so we’re expanding to Midway Mall in the old Rex Appliance area.”

The 2,600-square-feet space, which will include access to more than 300 parking spaces for commuters, will be accessible from inside the mall’s shopping area as well as a direct entrance from outside. The Morton Street Plaza location will serve Denison riders and the Go Red River Route between Texas and Oklahoma. With the addition of the new buses and locations, Underwood said he expects TAPS to top 375,000 trips this year.

“A lot of people don’t understand that we go all the way from Fannin County to Clay County,” Underwood said. “We always say Honey Grove to Wichita Falls. We also reach down into Collin, Denton, Perrin and Dallas County on a daily basis through medical transportation. We’re covering, on any given day, about 14 different counties, and our service area is 8,800 square miles.”

While the new park-and-ride locations will help with the shrinking parking situation at its Texoma Parkway location, TAPS has also outgrown its 15,000-square-feet facility there as well.

“It’s grossly undersized and will not meet our upcoming needs,” Underwood said. “Because of the influx of fleet money that we’ve received, we are able now to begin construction on the North Texas Regional Transportation Center. That’s going to be there on the parkway. We plan on demolishing everything we have and we will start over again.”

TAPS’ executive director explained the facility is currently housed in an old building that can’t receive any further additions or rehabilitations.

“We’ve got to either build up or do something different,” Underwood said. “So, we’re currently in the process of finding an architect.”

Plans are for the North Texas Regional Transportation Center to house a variety of different groups, including the Southern Oklahoma Rural Transportation System, Meals on Wheels and the local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 973.

“It’s going to be the regional transportation training center for 35 North Texas counties and 15 Southern Oklahoma counties,” Underwood said.

TAPS is also working with VVA 973 and other veterans groups to set up a route that would serve former service members.

“Obviously there’s a huge need for veterans in our area,” Underwood said. “There’s 13,226 veterans, not including spouses, in the Grayson County area. We’re working on a project with them. We’ve got a survey going on on our website right now and we’re also going to clinics two days a week to talk to veterans.”

Underwood said there’s a significant need for the former service members to get to the Veterans Affairs facility in Bonham, as well as the one in Dallas. He said the organization is also exploring options to get veterans in the area between Hunt County and Lamar County to the Bonham VA.

“We’re working right now with the VA Hospital in Bonham to connect to their bus in McKinney,” the TAPS executive director said. “Then what we would do for Grayson County is bring people down to that McKinney stop. We’re working to figure out exactly what the route would look like, what times it would need to be available, and how we can best serve veterans in our area.”