Fuel of the future

The New Castle Planning Commission gave its blessing to a proposed compressed gas station at the city bus garage. The New Castle Area Transit Authority is gradually phasing in vehicles that will be powered by natural gas.

The New Castle Planning Commission has given the green light for a conditional use request for a compressed natural gas station to be built at the Mahoning Avenue bus terminal.

The planning commission, an advisory board, reviewed the plans on Wednesday. Approval of the request must come from New Castle City Council.

Attorney Lou Perrotta, New Castle Area Transit Authority solicitior, said the local authority's site at 311 Mahoning Avenue was one of 29 transit facilities selected by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to operate and maintain a compressed natural fueling station. These facilities will be designed and built — at no cost to the local facility — over the next five years. The New Castle station will be one of seven to include a public fueling facility that will be open to commercial vehicles.

Construction is expected to begin next year.

Perrotta told commission members the authority anticipates demolishing a block building off Hobart Street as the site of the fueling station. The building, now used for storage, sits behind the Castle Brand building, he said.

The bus garage is in an M-2 Heavy Industry district, which allows gas service stations provided they have proper access and are 500 feet or more from a church, school, hospital or place of public assembly. The site meets these requirements, he said.

The project, using Pennsylvania's natural gas resources will result in greater efficiencies for transit agencies and will establish a foothold for converted natural gas transportation market. The conversion to compressed natural gas from gasoline or Diesel could save $10 million statewide, Perrotta said.

Earlier this year, state officials announced a $84.5 million private-public partnership project to pay for fueling stations and retrofit or replace the transit agencies' maintenance and storage facilities to make them compatible with natural gas buses.

"The fuel is cleaner and will cause less wear and tear on buses," Perrotta said.

The fuel will be delivered by pipe and buses will be upgraded or replaced to operate on the new fuel.

Transit Authority assistant general manager David Richards said as the authority's buses are replaced, they will be replaced by buses that run on compressed natural gas.

The authority has 10 hybrid buses — five from 2013 and five from 2015 — that run on a diesel/electric combination, he said.

"PennDOT estimates the useful life of a bus at 12 years," he said. "As we replace them, we will get compressed natural gas models."

Richards said six new buses to run on compressed natural gas have been ordered to replace six 1999 Diesel-powered buses.

"We estimate it will take 16 to 18 months to get them," he said. "We should have them right in time for the new fueling site to be up and running."

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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Nancy Lowry is a former reporter at the New Castle News, retiring Dec. 31, 2019, after many years covering government, school boards and writing feature stories.

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