Openings and Construction Starts Planned for 2016

Construction

» More than 240 miles of new fixed-guideway transit is expected to come online in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico this year. Also, check out a new way to visualize existing, planned, and proposed transit lines in North America: Transit Explorer.

Cities across the country are waking up to new bus and rail lines in droves. In 2016, North American transit agencies are expected to open 245 miles of new fixed-guideway transit lines, including 89 miles of bus rapid transit, 93 miles of commuter rail, 7 miles of heavy rail, 39 miles of light rail, and 18 miles of streetcars. This is more than triple the new mileage of such lines opened in 2015.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Use Transit Explorer to visualize the routes of existing, planned, and proposed transit lines, and to learn about their individual characteristics.[/pullquote]

Thanks in part to significant expenditures by national governments—such as the Urban Circulator and TIGER grants distributed by the U.S. Department of Transportation—but also due to the allocation of significant new funding from cities and states to transit agencies, 2016 will be a banner year, bringing new rail and bus lines to neighborhood after neighborhood. Projects opening this year, listed in detail below but including nine bus rapid transit lines, eight streetcar routes, seven light rail lines, six commuter rail lines, and two heavy rail extensions, will have cost more than $15 billion to build.* Three of these projects—the Second Avenue Subway in New York, University Link in Seattle, and BART Warm Springs Extension outside of San Francisco—each took more than seven years to build.

In the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, projects costing a total of $70 billion and representing more than 470 miles of new, fixed-guideway transit will be under construction by the end of the year, with completion expected in the coming decade. Much more is in planning.

This is the eighth year of my annual compilation of new transit projects on The Transport Politic. Find previous years here: 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015.

In order to provide a comprehensive view of the scope of investment planned, I worked with Steven Vance to develop a new resource, Transit Explorer, that offers readers an interactive and open-source mechanism to view these projects, an improvement over the Google Maps system I’ve used in the past. Transit Explorer shows new projects in the context of existing fixed-guideway lines.

A long route to 2016

More than any recent year, 2016 will be marked by the return of the modern streetcar in the U.S. A total of eight streetcar projects will open, including five in cities with no previous service—Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Washington. While the two Missouri projects have advanced relatively easily, the three others have had long and sometimes tortuous histories that demonstrate the lengths to which many American cities struggle to get new transit projects off the ground.

After having been advanced by transit advocates, Cincinnati’s line was subject to a failed fatal ballot measure in 2009 that would have killed it, later funded by the city, and then awarded state and federal support. In 2011, the project lost its state funding thanks to an intervention by now-presidential aspirant, then-Ohio governor John Kasich and in 2013 it was practically killed by new anti-streetcar mayor John Cranley. But now the line is finally ready for operation, and downtown Cincinnati and the nearby Over-the-Rhine neighborhood have been gentrifying in bubbly anticipation.

Perhaps more than anywhere else, in Detroit civic leaders have pinned their hopes for the city’s renaissance on a proposed new rail line. Just a three-mile line, the streetcar will undoubtedly have little ability to cure what ails the Motor City, but it has been a long time coming. In the 2000s, local leaders proposed a 9.3-mile light rail line connecting downtown with the suburbs on Woodward Avenue, the city’s main drag, but the project became mired in delays such that in 2008 private investors representing local companies drew up a competing, much-shorter project that has evolved into the “M-1 Rail” line to open this year.

This project took a number of remarkable leaps towards its realization, including the assembly of funding not only from private funders but also non-profits, including the Kresge Foundation, which contributed $35 million. The project was supposed to be completed by 2013, and received aid from the U.S. Department of Transportation in the form of a $25 million TIGER grant. By 2010, state leaders developed a proposal for a regional BRT network, a plan that could be seen as complementary or potentially competing, depending on whether funding could be identified. Indeed, despite the streetcar’s federal support, facing overwhelming municipal funding problems in late 2011 city officials proposed shutting off the project because of a fear that Detroit wouldn’t be able to pay operations costs. After intense negotiations in 2012, including an agreement from private backers that they would fund operations, the federal government committed another $25 million TIGER grant to the project, securing enough support for the line to move toward completion this year.

Political troubles may have been the name of the game in Cincinnati and Detroit, but in Washington there has been relatively steady commitment from elected officials for building a streetcar—combined with poor technical execution. Originally promised to Northeast D.C. in 2002, the streetcar on H Street and Benning Road east from Union Station was meant to link a neighborhood far from the region’s Metro system. But the city government was distracted, initially building another set of tracks across the river in Anacostia instead. That line began construction in 2004, received streetcars in 2007, had tracks laid in 2010… and has yet to open for service.

Cincinnati Streetcar Detroit M-1 Rail Kansas City Streetcar Loop Trolley H St/Benning Rd Streetcar
New streetcar lines are expected to open in Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Washington in 2016.

In the meantime, city officials made big plans, in 2009 announcing a 37-mile, eight-route, $1.5 billion streetcar system that would serve virtually the whole city. At the center of the network would be an east-west line running from Georgetown to Anacostia, including the aforementioned initial H Street Northeast link. Construction there began in 2009 with completion expected in 2012. Tracks were installed in 2011, but service kept being delayed by problem after problem and cost increase after cost increase. In 2015, new mayor Muriel Bowser evaluated the possibility of cancelling the project, but decided instead to focus in on the east-west segment, leaving the rest of the system for some future decade. Now this first route is supposed to be up and running in the next few months, though given this fraught history, one never knows.

In 2016, existing streetcar networks in Dallas, New Orleans, and Seattle are expected to be expanded for riders. Meanwhile, construction will continue or begin in El Paso, Milwaukee, and Oklahoma City as planning ramps up for streetcars in Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Tempe.

The large number of streetcar projects opening this year should not be mistaken for a nationwide consensus about the benefits of these new transit systems. Already, mostly funded projects in Arlington, Virginia and Fort Worth, Texas have been cancelled. The merits of mixed-traffic streetcars as mobility providers have always been, and will continue to be, questionable: They’re slow; they get stuck in traffic; they’re not even particularly good at moving a lot of people around.

Yet they’re likely to remain a growing element of American transit planning because, more than anything else, they offer mid-sized cities the opportunity to create new rail networks at relatively low costs.

Which isn’t to say that streetcars are the only investments cities are making. To the contrary. In fact, we’ll see several gigantic, expensive, and most certainly not mixed-traffic transit projects open in 2016, at least according to agency officials. L.A.’s Metro light rail network will finally (almost) reach the beach thanks to the $1.5 billion expansion of the Expo Line to Santa Monica; Seattle will open a $2 billion tunnel for its light rail trains to the University of Washington; and the Bay Area’s BART system will extend another few miles south in the East Bay.

In New York City, the Second Avenue Subway’s 1.7-mile, $4.9 billion first phase, theoretically to serve 200,000 daily riders, will run Q trains into the Upper East Side after nine years of construction. Maybe. And the $4 billion World Trade Center transportation center—perhaps the most expensive station in the world, and definitely one of the most extravagant—will finally open its winged lobby to the public.

Second Avenue Subway World Trade Center transportation center Denver commuter rail University Link Expo Line
The most expensive new projects expected to open in 2016 are New York’s Second Avenue Subway and World Trade Center Transportation Center; Denver’s three-line electrified commuter rail system; Seattle’s University Link light rail tunnel; and Los Angeles’ Expo Line light rail extension to Santa Monica.

To round out this surprisingly long list are a series of new rail lines in Denver constructed by what is likely the largest design-build-maintain-operate contract ever signed in the U.S. for a transit system. The Eagle P3 was finalized in a $2.1 billion, 2010 agreement that includes about 37 miles of electrified commuter rail operating on newly built tracks running west, north, and east from downtown’s Union Station. Declining sales tax revenues in 2009 almost killed the project, but in 2016, riders will get fast, sort-of-frequent service to the Denver airport, among other destinations.

If all this new rail hasn’t been enough to raise your inner transit-loving glee, perhaps you’ve been hoping for buses. Good golly, don’t be worried; there are several BRT routes planned for opening later this year, and even more after that planned for new construction. Check out the following lists—or use Transit Explorer.

The following new or expanded lines are expected to open to the public in 2016:

Construction is expected to begin on the following projects in 2016:

Progress in 2015

Cities across the continent outfitted themselves with significant new transit infrastructure in 2015. The most expensive project, by far, was New York’s 7 Subway extension, which added about one mile and one station to Gotham’s network—for the remarkably high cost of $2.4 billion.

Loop Link CTfastrack Viva BRT
In 2015, BRT lines with significant infrastructure opened in Chicago, Hartford, and Toronto.

But the year may also be remembered for adding four significant BRT corridors to the continent. CTfastrack’s connection between downtown Hartford and New Britain is a full-scale busway offering service in an entirely dedicated corridor. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Jacksonville, and Toronto, dedicated lanes opened with significant stations and other features for their buses. If these services are successful in attracting new ridership to transit and in providing measurable speed improvements, we are likely to see more of these lower-cost BRT projects in the future.

Projects that were completed in 2015:

Looking ahead

One need search no further than the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel proposed to connect New Jersey and New York City to know that even after funding has been secured and construction has begun, changes in estimated costs or new political leadership threaten to derail the completion of transit expansions. In 2015, the Baltimore Red Line, a light rail project that would have run east-west through the city, fell victim to a change in gubernatorial leadership. Several of the projects noted above will also likely be cancelled in the coming months.

But the broader story presented here suggests dramatic and nationwide commitment to expanded fixed guideway transit in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Though 2016 may be a high-water mark when it comes to transit line openings, we’re likely to see many years like it in the coming decade.

Indeed, regions are continuously searching for ways to ramp up investment on better transit. In November 2016, Los Angeles County and the Seattle metropolitan area are likely to ask their voters to devote new tax revenues to building more. In L.A., a repeat of 2008’s Measure R could fund a new subway through the Sepulveda Pass, among other projects. In Seattle, the passage of a third Sound Transit referendum could fund light rail to Ballard and West Seattle. There’s a lot to look forward to.

* The average cost per mile expected to be completed in 2016 will be:

  • $4 million for bus rapid transit
  • $30 million for commuter rail
  • $778 million for heavy rail (though the sample is very small—just two projects!)
  • $141 million for light rail
  • $46 million for streetcar

2016 streetcar photo credits: Flickr users 5chw4r7z, Sean_Marshall, Glithander, Scott Thomas Smith, and mariordo59, respectively (cc).
2016 major projects photo credits: Flickr users Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Anthony Quintano, airbus777, Sound Transit, and Steve and Julie, respectively (cc).
2015 BRT projects photo credits: Flickr users John Greenfield, airbus777, and wyliepoon, respectively (cc).

36 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Mike Friedman

    It’s not at all clear that New Orleans new streetcar line (already two years late and counting, it was supposed to be completed before the construction even started) will open in 2016.

    I live near there, and if they open by Christmas it’ll be a small miracle. Particularly if it ends up being a very wet winter, which everyone here is expecting.

  • Rico

    Missing the Evergreen line in Vancouver.

  • Naqiy Mcmullen

    Orlando is beginning construction on Phase 2 of our SunRail Commuter Rail system and opening a new downtown BRT route to complement two existing downtown routes as well.

  • Eric

    Yay, a bunch of streetcars that will be slower than walking. And a bunch of replaced bus stops that are called “BRT”.

    The US added exactly one heavy rail stop last year. Did you know that China added 136 heavy rail stops in the last month? I am not joking.

    At least several Western US cities have significant light rail extensions planned to open. But still, this is pitiful.

    • Michael

      In the USA, it called the union and it cost more money for safety than China’s hard and cheap labor jobs. Also, more environment studies cost more money than in China.

      • Union and safety costs are NOT the main reasons.

        We have a Luddite Congress whose funding priorities have been so screwed up since 1982, that we don’t maintain any transportation infrastructure at the proper rate. Nor do they sufficiently expand the best green transportation (Heavy Rail, upgraded Light Rail & upgraded Commuter Rail) options at a rate matching the population growth of our Top 50 Metro Areas.

        Instead, Congress funds just enough for band-aid solutions and photo ops. USDOT receives just enough funding to repave highway, not fix bridges and tunnels. Funding is only sufficient for Streetcars, Commuter Rail and BRT, where there should be Light Rail and upgraded (more overpasses/underpasses) Commuter Rail. There are numerous cases where upgraded Light Rail and Heavy Rail projects should have received enough funding to complete earlier for lower costs, but do not.

        • orulz

          We actually spend quite a lot on transit, but we get really poor bang for the buck compared to, well, just about everywhere else in the world. Unions are part of the story, but the more I read about it the more it seems like politically connected mega-contractors are basically somehow fleecing the public and gaming the system to drive costs skyward and line their pockets.

          • Thomas

            I would not single out Transit. Politically connected mega-contractors applies to Defense, Highways, Aviation, Waterworks and all major infrastructure.

            I disagree however that we spend a lot on Transit. Instead of the recent Surface Transit Bill increasing to $10B/year, we need to invest $18-20B year. We need that amount to catch up on deferred maintenance and to give Americans more rapid transit options to driving. We also have so many cities above healthy smog levels that need more Green Transit, http://www.stateoftheair.org/2013/city-rankings/most-polluted-cities.html

            To underscore the importance of great rapid transit, not that smog level in 21 million person NYC metro area is lower than Bakersfield, Birmingham and Cincinnati metro areas.

    • Hal

      Agreed, really paltry. This graphic puts it in clear perspective.

  • 202_Cyclist

    ” In 2011, the project lost its state funding thanks to an intervention by now-presidential aspirant, then-Ohio governor John Kasich and in 2013 it was practically killed by new anti-streetcar mayor John Cranley.”

    John Kasich is still governor of Ohio and, unfortunately, Republicans are still completely hostile to investing in transit.

  • Matthew S

    San Diego’s Mid-Coast Trolley Extension is missing from this list, as well. Construction is expected to start in the second half of 2016.

    Here is a link to the SANDAG page on it:
    http://www.sandag.org/index.asp?projectid=250&fuseaction=projects.detail

  • 202_Cyclist

    Thanks for writing this, I always enjoy seeing the new transit openings and new construction but this list seems to be missing the All Aboard Florida project, one of the most interesting transit projects in the US currently.

    • Thanks! I have chosen not to include intercity rail projects as part of this, though I did include the Miami Central Station that All Aboard Florida is building.

    • Thomas

      According to the skimpy details I’ve seen, about 85% of AAF track will be limited 79 mph and at best, service will be 12 times daily. The All Aboard Florida project is more interesting for its downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach stations than its speed and frequency.

      Call me when AAF gets a 180+ mph speed boost and up to 30 minute frequency. Ooh I forgot. The governor cancelled that project.

      • Thomas

        Even if Florida will not build true High Speed Rail, it should as the USDOT to co-invest enough to make the AAF run at least 110 mph like Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana and Virginia are doing for Amtrak routes. That would give the Orlando-West Palm Beach-Fort Lauderdale-Miami route a chance to average 90 mph with stops. more importantly, they would provide a faster alternative to driving.

  • John Schneider

    In addition to the 2009 ballot issue intended to kill the Cincinnati Streetcar, opponents launched a second ballot initiative in 2011 to kill it. That lost too. Now that the streetcars are running on Cincinnati streets in testing and training, opposition has pretty much died down and — as you wrote — “anticipation is bubbling.”

  • The Loosh

    Thanks for all your work on this list and map! A couple of additions:

    VRE opened a 5 mile extension + a new station (Spotsylvania) on their Fredericksburg Line on November 16th.

    Also, a longer-term addition for your Transit Explorer map should be the MARC Penn Line extension from Perryville to Newark, DE to connect up with SEPTA. When completed, you will be able to go all the way from Virginia to Connecticut via commuter rail. This MARC extension probably won’t happen for a while, but MTA Maryland keeps putting it in all their capital plans as the extension they want to do, so they seem serious about it.

    https://mta.maryland.gov/sites/default/files/mgip_update_2013-09-13.pdf

  • poncho

    The Denver-DIA rail link is important in that it is a new application of EMU trains, something common in re and Asia, and to a much lesser degree the Northeast US. Would love to see Denver’s EMU rail lines start something new in the US and reawaken this technology.

    • Mike Friedman

      As part of the California high speed rail project, the Caltrain corridor from SF to San Jose will be electrified. This will enable faster service, increased frequencies and better service, in addition to removing pollution from the older diesel locomotives that Caltrain uses.

  • Joe Woodward

    Thanks for the great and encouraging article, Yonah!
    Just a slight correction, in that adding the lengths of Denver’s 3 new commuter rail lines opening this year (5.5 mi., 11.2 and 24.8 miles) brings the total to over 41 miles (instead of about 25). And the Aurora light rail line opening late 2016 will add over 10 miles.

  • Jonah

    Should Cleveland be included on the list of cities you can select from on the Transit Explorer? I surmise they don’t currently have any funded transit proposals, but their current system (which appears on the map) is fairly robust as compared to peer cities.

    Otherwise – amazing tool!

  • Paul Ballard

    Great update but TEX Rail is not in Dallas (Projects expected to start construction in 2016). It’s in Fort Worth, TX and is being built by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority to connect it’s downtown with Terminal B of DFW Airport. Construction begins in the spring and it will be in revenue service by the end of 2018 using Stadler’s FLIRT trains.

  • Marlon

    “Detroit civic leaders have pinned their hopes for the city’s renaissance on a proposed new rail line”

    That’s kinda not true. Development in the midtown/downtown corridor is doing quite well even without the rail line.

  • Bob Stanfield

    About a fourth of the track for the first phase of the Honolulu Rail Transit project (five miles) has been completed as of December 2015. See http://honolulutransit.org/media/387534/20151204-nr-rail-project-completes-five-miles-of-guideway.pdf. The map in the Transit Explorer could be updated to reflect the completion of this amount of track.

  • Paul Ballard

    One additional thought on Fort Worth. The street car effort here was not mostly funded when the city council declined to accept federal planning money. And this occurred over five years ago. Thanks for the additional opportunity to clarify this additional point in the article.

  • Innsertnamehere

    You missed one in Toronto, an extension of a commuter rail line. There is a new commuter rail station currently under construction on the Richmond Hill GO line at Stouffville road, 8.5km (5.3 miles) further up the rail line than the current terminus. Its supposed to open by the end of 2016.

    http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/5164833-gormley-go-station-construction-great-news-for-richmond-hill-commuters/

  • Karl

    * The average cost per mile expected to be completed in 2016 will be:

    $4 million for bus rapid transit
    $30 million for commuter rail
    $778 million for heavy rail (though the sample is very small—just two projects!)
    $141 million for light rail
    $46 million for streetcar
    ++++

    Query?

    Are the BRT and Light rail / street car costs all on a like for like basis.

    I find it difficult to reconcile dedicated reinforced pavement bus right of way at 4M/mile and streetcar light gauge track ROW at 46M, let alone Light rail ROW at 141M/mile.

    Commuter rail are you talking conversion / upgrade of existing trackway or ab-initio construction??

    Do these costs include ROW acquisition.

    Truly appreciate the awesome work you have done but am just trying to place matters into perspective and get costings straight in my mind

  • Yuri

    Yonah, good job, as usual, but here are some additions/corrections, also as usual.

    First of all, it is already clear that some projects are delayed and will NOT open this year. Chicago’s Washington/Wabash station is now promised for January 2017. Opening of the Detroit’s Streetcar has been officially pushed back to spring 2017 according to MDOT. And the St. Louis’s useless Trolley line will only complete *construction* in late 2016 “followed by several months of rigorous testing and extensive operator training”, placing it in service well into 2017 as well.

    Second, there is one addition to your list. The Arthur Kill station (an infill station on Staten Island Railroad) is now expected to open this August, many months behind schedule.

    Finally, as of now (March 13), four projects are already in service: Seattle’s and Washington’s long delayed streetcars, the Gold line extension to Azuza in Los Angeles, and the Flatiron Flyer in Denver. Here is also a list of the officially announced upcoming openings this spring:

    March 19 – the University of Washington extension in Seattle
    March 19 – the Northwest extension in Phoenix
    April 22 – the airport line (Line A) in Denver
    May 6 – Kansas City Streetcar
    May 20 – the Expo line extension to Santa Monica in Los Angeles

    That’s all I can contribute at this point.

    P.S. I also thought the Silver line extension to Chelsea was going to open in Boston this year, but I don’t know what the status of this project is.

  • Kinyua Njeri

    This is awesome. If the railways are construct=ed by 2020, then the world will be a faster, more convenient place to live in. Africa- we really should talk- should learn to embrace these things. Infrastructure remains the biggest drive for economic growth. While several banks in Africa’s ‘superpowers are being placed under receivership ( http://www.254campusnews.com/2016/04/11/chase-bank-receiverships-legal-implication-hope-clients/ ) the governments should engage their people in creating awareness about their economy. Diversification is the word!

  • One additional thought on Fort Worth. The street car effort here was not mostly funded when the city council declined to accept federal planning money.

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