Raleigh wants public’s help setting route for bus rapid transit line to downtown Cary

The planned bus rapid transit line west of downtown Raleigh will extend into downtown Cary, but which path it will follow to get there is still up in the air.

Settling on a route for the Western Boulevard BRT is one goal of a study that will get underway Tuesday with a public meeting at N.C. State University’s McKimmon Center, 1101 Gorman St. The study will also look at land use along the BRT corridor and propose potential changes in development patterns as the bus line gets built in the coming decade.

Tuesday’s meeting, postponed from September by Hurricane Dorian, will be an open house from 4 to 8 p.m., with a formal presentation at 6:30 p.m.

There are three options for connecting the Western Boulevard bus rapid transit line from Raleigh into downtown Cary. City of Raleigh

Bus rapid transit combines the cost and flexibility of a bus system with some of the amenities of light rail, including stations with raised, covered platforms where passengers can buy tickets before boarding. BRT buses also have their own lanes and green lights at intersections to help keep them from getting bogged down in traffic.

The Wake Transit Plan, endorsed by voters when they approved a half-cent sales tax for transit in 2016, calls for four BRT lines radiating from downtown Raleigh. The first will follow New Bern Avenue east past WakeMed’s main campus before ending at New Hope Road.

City planners presented an early vision for the New Bern BRT line last month. It showed 3.3 miles of dedicated bus lanes on New Bern and Edenton Street east of downtown, with buses mingling in traffic for nearly two more miles east of WakeMed. It also identified nine potential station sites, roughly a half mile apart, that would put 96% of riders along the route within a five-minute walk of their destination, said Mila Vega, senior transportation planner for the city.

Vega said the New Bern Avenue BRT line will set a template for the other three, in terms of how the stations look and operate.

“As we decide New Bern, we’re trying to think about how this will work system-wide,” she said. “It should have the same feel.”

The city expects it will cost about $71.5 million to build the New Bern BRT line. Just over half of that would come from local sources, including the Wake transit tax, but the city is hoping the rest will come from the federal government. It plans to begin construction in the summer of 2021 and begin service on the line in late 2023.

The western and southern BRT lines would open sometime after that, and the northern line up Capital Boulevard would be last.

The city will use Tuesday’s meeting to collect public feedback on the Western Boulevard BRT line. For those who can’t make it, an online survey, at publicinput.com/BRTProjects, asks how people might use the BRT line and where stations or stops should be located.

There are also links there for surveys on the New Bern BRT line and on policies Raleigh might pursue to prevent development around the stations from excluding bus riders.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.