Bus DOT Light Rail

Federal Transit Administration Unveils Capital Projects Recommended for Major Financing

» Denver, Honolulu, Minneapolis, and San Francisco to see major investments in new light rail. Ten bus rapid transit lines moving forward.

In its proposed fiscal year 2011 budget released yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation revealed which projects it would recommend for New Starts and Small Starts capital construction grants. There are a total of $1.822 billion in grants heading to cities across the country, with huge projects in Honolulu, San Francisco, and Denver getting the biggest boost.

The Federal Transit Administration is predictable in its choices of which projects will be awarded the multi-million dollar merit-based grants, which are announced annually with the President’s proposed budget. We’ve known for several years that Minneapolis’ $1 billion light rail connection to St. Paul and San Francisco’s $1.3 billion Central Subway were likely to move forward, simply because they’ve repeatedly scored well in FTA evaluations. The same could be said for Denver’s East and Gold line rail corridors, which are backed by the huge FasTracks expansion program, and which also received good news from the federal government yesterday.

But the decision to fund a new busway connecting Hartford and New Britain in Connecticut comes as a bit of a surprise. The project has been in consideration for a decade, and it has seen both positive and negative reviews from the FTA over the years. Recent legislative actions in favor of transit projects in the state, as well as a shoring up of local funds for the project, likely pushed the U.S. government into supporting it. It will be New England’s second major busway project after Boston’s mediocre Silver Line.

The FTA’s willingness to move ahead with the $5.3 billion Honolulu rail project indicates that it is willing to buck concerns about financing stability that have been recently expressed by Hawaii’s governor. The scheme, which will begin construction later this year and which could eventually attract almost 100,000 daily riders if implemented successfully, is a major commitment: the FTA will be funding more than one billion dollars worth of the corridor’s cost, with the rest covered by local sales tax revenues.

Using the Small Starts capital grants program, the FTA also funded eight small bus rapid transit projects and one commuter rail project in the Los Angeles region. New York City’s Nostrand Avenue BRT, San Francisco’s Van Ness BRT, and the West Seattle BRT will serve very dense corridors and have received very good marks from the DOT in the past; the real question for each is whether the respective cities will be able to assemble adequate community support to begin work. The FTA’s continued funding for the East Bay BRT, which would connect Berkeley and Oakland, suggests that the agency still considers it a priority. That may be news to Bay Area politicians, who have pulled funding for the line recently in favor of the poorly considered Oakland Airport Connector, which itself is under threat by the DOT.

The other funded BRT corridors are in mostly suburban environments with center city connections.

Several projects, including Orlando’s SunRail, New York’s Access to the Region’s Core, and Houston’s North and Southeast Corridors, were approved for New Starts Funding last year. They will each move forward in the coming months.

The FTA’s evaluations of each of these projects will be released later in the spring in the annual New Starts report.

Recommended for New Starts Funding in FY 2011
CityProjectCost (m$ YOE)Total Riders (k)Length (mi)Completion Date
DenverEast Corridor CR17654322.82015
DenverGold Line LRT7161410.82016
HartfordHartford-New Britain Busway573169.42013
HonoluluHonolulu Metro Rail534811620.12018
Minneapolis/St. PaulCentral Corridor LRT941429.82014
San FranciscoCentral Subway LRT1578411.72016
Recommended for Small Starts Funding in FY 2011
CityProjectCost (m$ YOE)Length (mi)Completion Date
AustinMetro Rapid BRT4737.52012
Fort CollinsMason Corridor BRT8252011
New York CityNostrand Ave BRT409.32012
OaklandEast Bay BRT23516.92014
RiversidePerris Valley Line CR23324.42011
Roaring ForkValley BRT4438.82013
San BernardinoSan Bernardino Express BRT19215.72013
San FranciscoVan Ness Ave BRT11922013
SeattleWest Seattle BRT28122011
Already Under New Starts Funding Commitment
CityProjectStatusCost (m$ YOE)Total Riders (k)Length (mi)Completion Date
DallasGreen Line LRTExisting140646212010
DenverWest Corridor LRTExisting6973012.12013
HoustonNorth Corridor LRTPending756295.32012
HoustonSoutheast Corridor LRTPending823296.52012
New York CityLIRR East Side Access CRExisting73861603.52015
New York City2nd Ave SubwayExisting48672002.32017
New York CityNJT Access to the Region's Core CRPending870025492017
OrlandoSunRail CRPending3577.4322012
Salt Lake CityMid Jordan LRTExisting5359.510.62012
Salt Lake CityFrontRunner South CRExisting61212442013
SeattleUniversity Link LRTExisting194840.23.12016
WashingtonSilver Line Metro Phase IExisting31428611.72013

Image above: San Francisco Central Subway Chinatown Station, from SFMTA

18 replies on “Federal Transit Administration Unveils Capital Projects Recommended for Major Financing”

Austin’s plan isn’t BRT; it’s “Rapid Bus”; there’s no reserved lane; no off-bus payment; nothing other than fewer stops (on a corridor that already has limited-stop service) and the signal-holding device that will be irrelevant in most places since traffic backs up from several intersections down the road.

“New York City’s Nostrand Avenue BRT, San Francisco’s Van Ness BRT, and the West Seattle BRT will serve very dense corridors and have received very good marks from the DOT in the past; the real question for each is whether the respective cities will be able to assemble adequate community support to begin work.”

In the case of the Seattle project, that shouldn’t be a problem. While Metro is facing budget problems in future years, RapidRide is going forward precisely because it’s receiving federal money. There are already buses in the base for this service.

The problem with BRT is that there is no consensus as to its specific definition. The National Bus Rapid Transit Institute quoted the following as their definition in their Feb-09 publication “Characteristics of Bus Rapid Transit for Decision Making”:
“A flexible, high performance rapid transit mode that combines a variety of physical, operating and system elements into a permanently integrated system with a quality image and unique identity.”
I just learned of the presence of this document while following up on Yonah’s column. I eagerly downloaded it to see if a clarification now finally existed. To my dismay, despite its’ title, the document’s contents seem to simply reinforce its vagueness.
We’ve run into this issue many times in transit advocacy in Atlanta especially during the FTA mandated Alternatives Analysis phase of a planned project. The transit agency, in this case MARTA would present elaborate photos of some of the most sophisticated systems in the world. One of the images, most impressive to the viewing audience was an artist rendering of a BRT system, which I’m not sure where it was supposed to be or if it even exist, but the tires of this train-like vehicle were moving on track-like parallel narrow concrete running pads, with turf in-between for each bus-way suggesting something other being manually guided. However, we later witnessed MARTA referring to city buses operating on slightly modified freeway emergency service aprons as BRT. It was when we sought to call them on this, and we researched for an official BRT definition that we discovered that a specific definition that we could hold them to didn’t actually exist. The bait-and-switch routine is very easy if you provide a vague definition. For this reason I and others will always be dubious when BRT is brought up as an alternative transit mode.

Austin’s money is going 75% to new rolling stock (including signal-holding doodad which will be irrelevant in highest congestion area), 25% to “stations” (really minimal; typical example is a bench with a wavy canopy on top).

When it says 160,000 riders for LIRR East Side Access what is that referring to? And, where did that number come from?

Re : San Francisco’s Central Subway

The project Has several problems –
1) The FTA wants some assurance that SFMuni can afford to operate the T-Third extension from Fourth+King to Chinatown. The line is at LEAST one to two stations short on its northern end. That shortness means that cuts in bus service may not save enough money.

2) BART is reportedly not happy about the deep tunnel under Market St.

3) The deep tunnel routing does NOT make a connection to the Market Street Subway. The closest stations (Powell + Union Square) would be a couple of blocks apart.

4) Reportedly the tunnel does not save all that much time over a prioritized, surface run (e.g. a transit mall on Stockton, rail hump on Fourth).

P.S. I’ve been keeping an eye on the St. Gotthard Tunnel. The Central Subway completion date, some say 2016 others 2018, seems way too far out when compared to what the Swiss are doing with their super-tunnel. The project managers need to lay out a time-line for the project and give us some assurance that this is not another boondoggle like the Oakland Airport Connector. The pork that I’m smelling seems more putrid than barbecued.

P.P.S. I’m not anti-LRT. I’m anti-stupid-tunnels that are in the wrong place or are too short. Did anybody think about running a tunnel from Fort Mason to just south of Stockton + Sacramento ? It may seem crazy but with a transit mall on Stockton from the current tunnel to Market St. the new tunnel could surface in the middle of the old one. That would keep the new tunnel at or above the water table and simplify the engineering.

@Ted King: Comparing a subway construction with a very long alpine tunnel might be a little bit off. Considering that the Gotthard base tunnel will be 57 km long, and consist of more than 150 km of excavation length, to some extent in very difficult geological environment, and very deep under the surface, this project can not really be compared.

If you would look at Swiss construction sites which are more comparable to a subway, you might look at the new crosstown line in Zürich (Durchmesserlinie, (site in German language), which includes a 5 km long tunnel, with some very difficult sections under the Limmat river, a new 4-track station, and a more than 1 km long access viaduct. The whole 11 km long project has an overall construction time of 9 years, and costs CHF 2bn (which is approximately USD 2bn), of which the Canton of Zürich pays one third, and two thirds are federal funds.

Thank you for the link to Zurich’s Through-Line. I used the Swiss Alpine tunnel as a worst case baseline. They can do half a klick to a klick per MONTH. Why is the CS’s tunnel of two to three klicks going to take a YEAR or more ?

The documentation that I’ve found on the web is paltry and underwhelming. I’m afraid that the Central Subway may turn out to be San Francisco’s version of New York’s Second Ave. Subway.

I’d add a fifth problem to the Central Subway: its stations are only built to accommodate existing Muni vehicles, which are limited in length; this restricts capacity if the line ever gets well-patronized.


It appears that Maryland did not have an application in for 2010 New Starts funding for either the Red or Purple lines. MTA has been disappointingly cagey about the entire thing, save for putting up all those “Red Line goes here” or whatever signs.


The Gold Line in Denver, is not LRT as you have in your table, but EMU, same as the East Line that will go to DIA.

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