PARTA planning to open Portage County’s first compressed natural gas station for public, private use

Mitch Felan

ARTA is continuing to make progress in building the first compressed natural gas (CNG) facility in Portage County that will be available for public and private use.

The bus service is planning to build two CNG stations and a gas compressing plant at its headquarters on Summit Street.

“We won’t be reinventing the wheel or anything,” said Claudia Amrhein, PARTA’s general manager, about the project. “This is not a new technology.”

The technology is new for PARTA, however. The service received funding for several CNG buses earlier this year that could total eight CNG-fueled buses by the year 2022, Amrhein said. However, PARTA will not be the only ones using the new stations.

Jeremy Williams, an assistant professor at Kent State specializing in petroleum geology, said more businesses are thinking of making the switch to CNG fuels.

Williams said the appeal of using the fuels is that they are considered better for the environment than gasoline or diesel fuel.

In fact, Amhrein said the environmentally-friendly nature of CNG fuels was what helped PARTA receive funding for its CNG-fueled buses.

“It means a great deal for PARTA and Portage County because CNG is a cleaner way to run buses,” she said. “That’s what allowed us to get funding. In order to run (the CNG-fueled buses), we have to have a place to fuel them.”

While she said funding for the buses will come from several sources, the main two are being provided from the Ohio Diesel Emissions Reduction Grant and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Grant. In April, PARTA said the grant from the Ohio Diesel Emissions Reduction totaled $830,000. Both grants were given to PARTA to increase the number of CNG-fueled vehicles in the state.

In addition to PARTA’s planned buses, a compressing plant and two CNG fueling stations are being added – one for PARTA’s use and one for public services to use.

“Fleets in the area (like) construction companies or garbage companies that have CNG-fueled vehicles will be able to fuel their vehicles on our property, like a gas station almost,” Amrhein said. 

According to General Electric Company, more than 12 million vehicles are CNG-fueled, however only 250,000 are being used in the United States.

Lisa Myers, the public and media relations manager for Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), said the bus service started converting its buses to be CNG-fueled in 2013.

“I believe that’s about a third of our fleet,” Myers said, which is about 100 busses.

COTA had help from Richard L. Bowen and Associates, a company that is also helping PARTA with their transition.

Ken Emling, who works with Richard L. Bowen and Associates, is working with PARTA on its project.

“In order to allow a CNG vehicle to pull inside of a building, that building has to be retro-fitted in a few specific ways,” Emling said. “We took one garage bay and converted it to be CNG-compliant and that finished up a couple months ago.”

That was part one of PARTA’s CNG project, Amrhein said. Now, Emling and his staff are tasked with ensuring the second part is successful: developing a plan to finish the fueling stations and compressing plant.

Once the construction plan is complete, the package will be sent out to bid upon. The lowest bidder will then complete the project, while Richard L. Bowen and Associates will act as PARTA’s representative during the process. Emling said he thinks the bidding process will start in spring 2017.

Emling said PARTA’s CNG station is a smaller project for him than similar projects he’s helped out with, including the COTA stations. 

“No matter what the size is, the project is the same,” he said. “You have to make sure you’re making the right decisions up front no matter what size project.”

One of those decisions is about allowing services to continue, Emling said.

“These transit facilities, they need to stay operational — even when construction occurs. That’s always a challenge,” he said. “You have to make sure you’re not interrupting any existing utilities while the new facility is getting installed.”

Emling and Amrhein are planning to begin construction in fall 2017 and officially open the new plant and stations by summer 2018.

Amrhein also said she is planning to order at least two CNG-enabled buses, which take 18 months to build, in the beginning of next year to coincide with the official opening.

While neither Emling nor Amrhein reported any significant barriers that would delay building, Amrhein said that anything can happen once construction starts.

Mitch Felan is the safety and transportation reporter, contact him at [email protected].