Both rail and bus modes of public transportation saw notable advances during 2011. Actions affecting U.S. public transit systems included federal funding for specific projects, ridership growth, and action toward implementing high-speed rail.
Significant FTA Support
On Dec. 12, Peter M. Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), visited Draper, UT, to sign a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) awarding $116 million to the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) for a 3.8-mile extension of TRAX light rail. The event was held at the site of the future Draper Town Center TRAX Station.
The new light rail line will extend from downtown Salt Lake City into the suburb of Draper; construction is already underway and expected to be completed in December 2013.
FTA began 2011 by advancing $182.4 million in New Starts funding for seven public transit projects already under construction in New York, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Northern Virginia for heavy, light, and commuter rail.
The funding was as follows: $44.3 million for MTA Long Island Rail Road’s East Side Access project; $40 million for MTA New York City Transit’s Second Avenue Subway; $22.7 million for Sound Transit’s University Link light rail line in Seattle; $20.6 million for the Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) Mid-Jordan light rail project; $19.8 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Dulles Corridor heavy rail line from Tysons Corner to Reston, VA; $17.8 million for Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s (DART) Northwest/Southeast Light Rail; and $16.5 million for UTA’s FrontRunner North commuter rail line.
In a February media conference call, FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff recommended new public transportation projects for funding in FY 2011. That list included six new projects eligible for New Starts funding, in Denver; Honolulu; Minneapolis-St. Paul; San Francisco; and New Britain-Hartford, CT. It also added four new projects eligible for Small Starts funding: bus rapid transit (BRT) in Oakland, CA, and along Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco; BRT for Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, NY; and BRT for West Seattle.
Midyear, the FTA provided more funding through existing FFGAs: Denver’s West Corridor light rail line, $40 million; MTA Long Island Rail Road East Side Access, $215 million; MTA New York City Transit Second Avenue Subway Phase I, $197 million; DART Northwest/Southeast light rail minimum operating segment, $86 million; UTA, $100 million for Mid-Jordan light rail and $80 million for Weber County-Salt Lake City commuter rail; Northern Virginia, Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project Extension to Wiehle Avenue, $96 million; Seattle University Link light rail extension, $110 million; and St. Paul-Minneapolis Central Corridor light rail, $45 million.
What follows is an overview of the continual progress in strengthening and extending the reach of public transit in communities across the country.
Hampton Roads Transit in Virginia Beach, VA, opened its TIDE light rail system with 7.4 miles of track, and Denton County Transportation Authority in Lewisville, TX, opened its A Train system with 21 miles of track across northern Texas.
DART in Dallas expanded the Green Line by 24 miles last December. When their new extension is included, the result is that Dallas has the largest light rail system in the country.
Salt Lake City had two extensions: as of August, there were more than 15.7 new miles of track on the Mid-Jordan and West Valley Lines within the TRAX system. Both these extensions were delivered ahead of schedule and under budget, and have shown strong ridership.
These alone accounted for 68 miles of new rail!
Rogoff visited St. Paul, MN, April 26 to present a ceremonial check for half the cost of Metro Transit’s Central Corridor Light Rail Transit line between Minneapolis and St. Paul. The FFGA between FTA and the Metropolitan Council contractually committed the federal government to paying $478 million, or half the total cost of $957 million.
The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) in Portland celebrated the 25th anniversary of its first light rail line, Eastside MAX, with events Sept. 1 in Portland and Gresham, OR. The 15-mile Eastside MAX line was the first built in the region and only the third modern light rail line in the U.S. when it opened in 1986, compared with about 30 U.S. light rail systems today.
Seattle’s Sound Transit invested $377 million, funded with Build America Bonds, for light rail projects including the initial Central Link line and the Airport Link and University Link extensions.
And this month, Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Metro) was notified it would receive $900 million in federal funds for light rail expansion under two FFGAs.
Streetcars showed themselves to be an increasingly appealing mode of public transit, with the FTA announcing funding for five projects through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program: $63 million for a modern streetcar in Tucson, AZ; $45 million for New Orleans’ Union Passenger Terminal/Loyola Loop Streetcar; $25 million for Detroit’s Woodward Avenue Light Rail; $23.2 million for street reconstruction in Portland, OR; and $23 million for the Downtown Dallas Streetcar. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood participated in ground-breaking ceremonies for the New Orleans project.
MTA New York City Transit activated “countdown clocks” in 100 subway stations. These clocks, formally called Public Address/Customer Information Screens, provide up-to-the-minute next train information that takes the guesswork out of how long the wait time will be.
For the first time, the Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland has its own rail station—the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s (GCRTA) East 55th Street Rapid Station. In the past, residents had to cross a busy intersection and walk directly to the tracks to board GCRTA’s rapid transit vehicles.
BRT and Other Bus Services
New and extended rail lines were not the only advances public transit agencies saw in 2011. More agencies moved forward with BRT systems and other innovations in bus service.
The “bus” year began with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority celebrating its introduction of service on its second MAX BRT line, the Troost MAX Green Line, on New Year’s Day. The new line joined Main Street MAX, also known as the Orange Line, which entered operation five years ago and has seen its ridership double during that time.
The Livermore-Amador Valley Transit Authority introduced “Rapid” BRT service, a line connecting Dublin, Pleasanton, and Livermore, CA, on Jan. 24.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority installed a locally manufactured solar-powered canopy at a bus garage near Atlanta. The Laredo Garage solar canopy, funded with a $10.8 million federal grant, is the largest structure of its kind in Georgia and the second largest within a U.S. transit system.
Sun Metro in El Paso, TX, joined with the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in March to mark the opening of the new, $13 million Glory Road Transfer Center. The facility offers a variety of amenities to enhance the rider’s experience, such as free Wi-Fi, a heated and air-conditioned waiting area, real-time bus arrival displays, an automated teller machine, a change machine, vending machines, and concession/retail space.
At the end of September, Omnitrans in San Bernardino, CA, launched construction on the region’s first BRT project, the E Street Corridor sbX line.
FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff, right, and UTA General Manager Michael Allegra meet Dec. 12 in Draper, UT, following Rogoff’s signing ceremony for a light rail Full Funding Grant Agreement.