A multimillion-dollar plan to connect north and south Chapel Hill with bus-rapid transit has tripled in cost as it moves toward federal support, with funding and other details to be worked out next year.
Bus-rapid transit, or BRT, relies on dedicated lanes, priority at traffic signals and platform-level boarding to deliver more efficient bus service.
The North-South Corridor plan started as a $24.5 million, 7.3-mile link between Eubanks Road and UNC’s campus. New Chapel Hill Transit buses and related amenities were expected to cost an additional $7 million.
Further study and community conversations have extended the route to 8.2 miles, from Eubanks Road to Southern Village, said Chapel Hill Transit director Brian Litchfield.
The cost has reached $97 million to $106 million, including buses, stations and signal priority systems.
Local officials hope Small Starts funding from the Federal Transit Administration will cover 70 percent of that cost. The BRT was accepted into the Small Starts project development phase in November, Litchfield said. (Watch a conceptual video at vimeo.com/148875630)
The local funding – up from 25 percent to 30 percent now – still needs to be worked out. The Chapel Hill Transit partners – Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC – could provide the bulk of that money.
The Orange County bus and rail investment plan, which would also help pay for the light rail line between Chapel Hill and Durham, would provide at least $6.1 million, GoTriangle officials said.
Litchfield said the higher BRT cost was expected. The project will have a better chance at FTA funding if it can show a higher level of local support, he said.
“As we move through the project development phase, I think we’ll have a better sense of how to refine those costs, but also have a better sense of what the federal share is and the local share is,” Litchfield said.
The next steps are refining the plan, securing financial commitments, and completing the environmental review, preliminary engineering and design work.
Transit officials will meet with the partners and the Town Council early next year before getting started, Litchfield said. The current timeline has construction starting in 2019 and BRT service hitting the road in 2020.
The plan so far is for 12 buses to serve 16 stations along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, South Columbia Street, Pittsboro Street and U.S. 15-501 south to Southern Village. A connection to a future light-rail station at UNC Hospitals is being considered, he said.
Roughly 85 percent of the route could operate in dedicated bus lanes, using either existing or new, standalone traffic lanes. The rest, especially downtown, could operate in mixed traffic.
The goal of project development is finding the best ways for people to get around and access stops along the corridor, Litchfield said, from incorporating the town’s plans for bike and pedestrian improvements to rerouting buses so they better serve riders in other areas.
BRT is expected to increase Chapel Hill Transit’s average daily ridership in the corridor by 43 percent, to 8,575 trips a day.
“Someone utilizing the system is either going to be a pedestrian or cyclist on one end or both ends of their trip likely, so providing those accesses are going to be important, as well,” Litchfield said.
How BRT works
Watch a conceptual video at vimeo.com/148875630