Traci Wickett remembers she had just finished having breakfast with Gonzalo Salazar, when the beginnings of Route 45 came into being.
She and the Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District superintendent had been discussing the needs of the district and what the United Way of Southern Cameron County could do for it.
What he wanted, she said, was a college campus in Los Fresnos.
Wickett, the chief executive of the United Way of Southern Cameron County, knew what he was getting at: His students in Los Fresnos were isolated transit-wise from the Lower Rio Grande Valley’s three higher educational institutions, meaning while opportunities for undergraduate studies and beyond were just minutes down the road, accessibility to them depended greatly on the students’ access to a vehicle.
Wickett said she made some calls and eventually found a partner in Valley Metro.
From there, she kept inviting stakeholders in, including Cameron County, until there were enough sponsors to launch a bus route connecting Los Fresnos with Texas Southmost College, the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas State Technical College Harlingen.
And the response, she said, exceeded all expectations.
Maribel Contreras of Valley Metro presented data to the Cameron County Commissioners’ Court Thursday showing that the route had met all of its goals set when the program debuted in January 2012, shattering estimates for ridership and cost.
Contreras’ presentation showed that the route averaged 3,138 riders in its trial run, more than three times the 975 riders per month goal set when the program was planned while the projected cost per rider, $17.37, proved to be $5.37, less than one-third as much.
Contreras said much of the influx of riders was due to an increase in students on the buses, which was the initial goal of the project.
“It was a way of connecting students to post-secondary schools,” Wickett said.
Contreras echoed those sentiments.
“We wanted to get students to continue their education,” she said, noting that the Valley Metro route was the only public transit option that connected the schools with Los Fresnos. “That’s going to keep happening as long as we have funding.”
And the company seems to have gained that revenue because the Commissioners’ Court voted unanimously to approve the project for another round of funding that will keep the route running for another 18 months.
Together with six other partners, the county will grant Valley Metro $20,000 to fund the program’s operation costs. The combined $140,000 will be coupled with a federal match of $140,000 to pay for the route to continue connecting Los Fresnos and the Valley’s colleges.
The route is expected to pick up more riders, too, as Valley Metro is predicting a 54 percent increase in ridership in 2013.