APTA | Passenger Transport
May 11, 2009

In This Issue


Very Small Starts Includes Bus Rapid Transit
By SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

Many Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects are eligible for federal grants under the Very Small Starts program, speakers emphasized during the Bus Rapid Transit Conference sponsored by APTA and the Transportation Research Board and held concurrently with the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference.

At a May 5 session dedicated to the relationship between BRT and the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) New Starts and Small Starts program, FTA’s Richard Steinmann pointed out that the Very Small Starts program is open to transit projects with a total capital cost of less than $50 million, a capital cost under $3 million per mile, and providing service to more than 3,000 daily passengers—meaning “a lot of BRT is eligible,” he added.  “New Starts and Small Starts is a competitive program, so transit agencies need to know the criteria so FTA can make allocations,” Steinmann said.

He announced that 14 New Starts projects and 21 Small Starts projects are currently at the preliminary engineering and final design stage, accounting for a total of approximately $25 billion in federal grants.

Transit agencies with New Starts BRT projects include Lane Transit District in Eugene, OR, which is at the Project Construction Grant Agreement stage with FTA; Hartford, CT, in final design; and Boston’s Silver Line extension, in preliminary engineering. Regarding Small Starts, King County Metro Transit’s Federal Way RapidRide project just received funding, he said, and 17 other BRT projects currently are in development.

Reed Lee, a senior transit planner with HDR Engineering Inc. in Denver, reported on the Regional Transportation District’s U.S. 36 BRT project, part of the Denver transit agency’s FasTracks program. Because the line involves 21 distinct jurisdictions and agencies, RTD had to create a Preferred Alternative Committee with stakeholders and establish working groups before moving forward with the project.

Another Colorado BRT project—in the Roaring Fork Valley, on a 40-mile corridor between Glenwood Springs and Aspen—was the topic of William D. Byrne, P.E., vice president of David Evans and Associates Inc. in Denver.  Byrne explained that FTA has awarded RFTA a Very Small Starts grant, which will allow the agency to begin work this summer and complete it by 2012.

Karl Otterstrom, director of planning for the Spokane Transit Authority in Spokane, WA, reported on two Very Small Starts BRT projects he oversaw during his previous employment with King County Metro Transit in Seattle: the 14-mile Pacific Highway South RapidRide line and the 10-mile line. He noted that the agency identified the corridors in 2002, and that four BRT corridors were included in King County Metro’s Transit Now plan in 2006.

A second session, “Fitting BRT to Smaller and Suburban Systems,” brought together representatives of transit agencies in Cleveland and the Chicago suburbs to share their BRT experiences.

Dr. Tunde Balvanyos, BRT coordinator with Pace Suburban Bus in Arlington Heights, IL, recounted the planning process for Pace’s “arterial BRT, or ART” line. The purpose of this line is to provide maximum service with minimum expense and disruption, operating in mixed traffic on arterial streets, and eventually to become the agency’s core service.  While traditionally the suburbs have been served by Metra commuter rail, new growth has meant more people living in low-density areas not close to rail—and that’s where BRT comes in.

Michael York, deputy general manager-operations for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA), shared lessons learned from the agency’s introduction of HealthLine BRT service last year. He noted that the line will revitalize Euclid Avenue, once the center of the city, while linking the two largest employment centers in the area, downtown Cleveland and University Circle.

To emphasize the “rail-like” nature of BRT, GCRTA ordered 63-foot articulated vehicles from New Flyer that offer precision docking at stations and level boarding.

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