CATA officials “highly optimistic ” about the future of the BRT

LANSING, MI (WLNS) – It’s been a couple months since we’ve talked about the Capital Area Transportation Authority’s Bus Rapid Transit project, also known as the BRT.

As we make our way into 2017, officials at CATA say they’re optimistic about the future of the multi-million dollar project and don’t plan on pumping the brakes when it comes to getting federal funding.

CATA says the BRT, which would create bus only lanes for high capacity buses to move along Michigan Avenue all the way down the Grand River Avenue Corridor, will help increase transit capacity, encourage economic growth, and improve safety in the Lansing region.

“To spend $15 million per mile to build this thing and another $2.8 million to operate it in the future….I don’t think that makes sense,” Erik Lindquist said. Lindquist has formerly worked as CATA’s Finance Director.

According to CATA, the BRT will help with an over-capacity issue with Route 1 both now, and in the future. However, if you look at data that CATA submitted to the National Transit Database from the last two years, it shows the number of passengers and miles traveled by CATA from 2014 to 2015 has actually decreased.

“The data up through 2014 does support CATA’s position,” Lindquist said. “It’s showing a very slow, gradual growth, but the 2015 fiscal year, which ended September of 2015, dropped off considerably and we’ll see the 2016 data coming up sometime in the middle of this year. The fact that it was dropping between five and 10 percent, 11 percent, shows that the community is maybe finding other ways of getting around.”

Lindquist says he doesn’t believe there’s enough justification for the project, saying the money being spent to move forward with it, should be spent elsewhere.

“Spending $200 million on one project like this, that has so many question marks around it when we might be able to apply for other types of grants that might help other parts of our community,” Lindquist said. “And I think that’s where I would be concerned if we set this in place now, we’re actually cashing in some chips now, that we might need later on.”

Since 2009, the transportation authority has been working on the project. The plan was entered into the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant Program back in 2013, but has seen a couple setbacks.

According to the FTA, CATA’s BRT project is currently in the “project development phase” which means CATA still has to submit a final plan and design for the project, conduct an environmental review, and secure local funding.

It’s unclear when the environmental assessment will be completed.

Roughly $100 million could come from the FTA’s Small Starts Grant.

“In order to get the Small Starts Grant, there’s some criteria that has to be met,” Lindquist said. “One of the key ones that I feel is worth putting some attention on, is the amount of money that is spent for minutes saved. There’s a ratio that they [FTA] look for that’s ideal…for example I always go back to my days from when I lived in D.C, the metro that took me from Vienna Metro Stop, downtown, took off a whole lot of time on my daily commute. I don’t see that happening in Lansing. I don’t see people walking from their home in Okemos, to the bus stop at Meijer or at the Meridian Mall to take it to save parking or time to get down to the Capitol.”

When it comes to getting local support, that may not be easy, either.

While Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero has said he believes the BRT will help with things like economic development, organizations including the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and Michigan State University remain opposed to the plan.

In a document obtained by 6 News, dated back to September 28, 2015,  MSU wrote a letter to CATA highlighting a number of concerns surrounding the BRT project’s plan. Those concerns included things like pedestrian safety when crossing the Grand River, and funding.

The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce has opposed the plan for reasons including “no clear revenue projections from the proposed BRT route, lack of other viable options, and significant disruption from the loss of the center turn lane for businesses along the corridor, addressing long-term operational costs, and how funding gaps will be filled if federal and state funding falls short.”

While CATA officials say the project is only 30 percent complete, they don’t plan on pumping the brakes on the project anytime soon.

If you remember, back in October of 2016, CATA introduced five new concepts that modified the BRT project’s plan, after getting feedback from the public.

One plan called for eliminating the dedicated lanes for the buses, and mixing them into traffic once the buses drive into the Meridian Township area. This concept is designed to eliminate concerns over the medians and free flowing traffic.

Another option presented, calls for putting the lanes on the sides of the curb. It would involve some additional funding, which is more than what the current project calls for. At last check, the project’s cost was reduced down to $133 million.

The third idea is called the “Capitol to Campus” concept. There are three different alternatives within the concept. Some examples include: a bus route that would run to the Michigan Avenue/Grand River connection. The other, would take the bus route into Albert and Division Street.

Based on those modifications, CATA officials say changes were made to the project’s plan and budget. While the annual report with funding recommendations for fiscal year 2018 has not yet been published, CATA says it remains “highly optimistic.”

Read more about CATA’s proposed BRT project here.


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