Raleigh seeks grant for improved bus service

Big plans for New Bern Ave.

Staff WriterMarch 17, 2010 

— New Bern Avenue, Raleigh's eastern gateway and its busiest bus route, is a candidate for a $13.9 million makeover.

The city is seeking a federal grant for new sidewalks and pedestrian crossing signals, a dozen large bus shelters, and a transit upgrade with new hybrid buses that would run faster and arrive every 10 minutes.

The Federal Transit Administration said in December that it would hand out $280 million in competitive grants for urban circulator street car and bus projects that foster community redevelopment and make neighborhoods more walkable. Raleigh wants $11.1 million to add to $2.8 million in local money.

Capital Area Transit already planned to start running buses more frequently on its New Bern-WakeMed Route 15, and it recently began building new transit shelters. Route 15 serves 2,000 riders daily between downtown Raleigh and a cluster of medical, educational and service agencies centered around WakeMed and a Wake Tech Community College campus.

If Raleigh wins the federal grant, CAT will introduce the Triangle's first so-called bus rapid transit service in East Raleigh. New technology would give the buses priority at traffic signals - with longer green lights and shorter red lights to speed them on their way. Twelve big transit shelters would be spaced about one-half mile apart on New Bern and Edenton Street. The stops would have bike racks and real-time bus arrival message boards.

"They're really super-nice bus stops," said David Eatman, city transit administrator. "We want them to complement the communities and the businesses they serve."

Danny Coleman, a builder and community advocate in Southeast Raleigh, applauded the CAT proposal. Coleman served on a regional advisory group that developed plans for light-rail trains and beefed-up bus service. He said it was important to focus on improvements for low-income residents who depend on buses.

"We need something like this on the ground - to show people how rubber-tire transit can work, and how mass transit can be effective even if it's not rail, " Coleman said.

Eatman said the federal grant would support a bigger upgrade for New Bern Avenue itself.

The street would be repaved, and sidewalks that now stop at Poole Road would be extended a mile to WakeMed.

The grant would bolster public and private redevelopment efforts in the blighted College Park neighborhood, north of New Bern and west of Raleigh Boulevard.

Builders of Hope, a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit group, is developing a related grant proposal to help rebuild homes and make other improvements in the neighborhood.

"It's an exciting possibility, and my prayer is that it will move forward," said the Rev. Staccato Powell, senior pastor of Grace African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in College Park.

While the Route 15 bus would continue its 55-minute round trip, serving riders at 61 stops, the new buses would stop only at the 12 new transit shelters. With fewer stops and more green lights, Eatman said, the buses would be expected to cut up to 8 minutes off the 7.5-mile round trip.

Eatman said he expects to learn by early summer whether Raleigh will win the grant.

bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4527.

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